May 15, 2012|By Genevra Pittman | Reuters

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Three months of acupuncture improved breathing problems in people with chronic lung disease, in a new study from Japan.
According to one researcher, the benefits seen with the alternative treatment were on par with, or better than, what's been shown for conventional drugs and exercises used to treat the disease. But the study was small, he added, and more research will be needed to convince doctors and policymakers of acupuncture's usefulness.
"We don't know if this is going to extend life, but the study suggests it improves quality of life," said Dr. George Lewith, from the University of Southampton in England.
"If I had enough money and I was the patient, I would give acupuncture a try."
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is irreversible impairment of lung function, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, often caused by smoking. One large national health survey suggested 24 million Americans have the condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Shortness of breath is one of the main symptoms of COPD. Typical treatment includes steroids and bronchodilators, as well as breathing exercises.
Because of that, it's not totally surprising that an alternative therapy known to promote relaxation would help patients with breathing problems, according to Lewith.
"What acupuncture does is it seems to relax all the muscles around the chest wall," said Lewith, who wrote a commentary published with the new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
"It's absolutely consistent with what we're trying to do conventionally, which is help with their breathing exercises and their relaxation techniques."