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World Health Organisation

The World Health Organisation recommends acupuncture for over 100 conditions.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) began on the 7th of April 1948, with the vision of ‘a world in which everyone can live healthy, productive lives, regardless of who they are or where they live’.  They have offices in over 150 countries.  They work alongside policy makers and advisors ‘to ensure the highest attainable level of health for all people’.  And based on their research, the World Health Organisation recommends acupuncture.

Primarily, the WHO’s role is ‘to direct and coordinate international health within the United Nations’.  So they set standards for governments and large organisations to follow, in order to improve the health of all our world’s citizens.

In 1979, the WHO held a symposium on acupuncture.  They created a list of 43 diseases that acupuncture can help with.  In 1997, along with several National Institutes of Health, they published a Consensus Statement on acupuncture.  This summarised the current understanding on acupuncture, based on the research that was available at the time.

At this point the research was not yet based on well-designed clinical trials.  Even so, the statement concluded that there were ‘promising results showing efficacy of acupuncture’, for postoperative pain, nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy.  It stated that acupuncture also ‘might be useful as an adjunct treatment or an acceptable alternative’, for a variety of other conditions, mainly different types of pain.  Then, this was a bold statement.  However, the World Health Organisation now recommends acupuncture for over 100 conditions.

Around the same time as they were drafting the Consensus Statement, the WHO also put together a team of scientists to produce a consultation paper on acupuncture.  This was published in 2003.  It brought together evidence from 255 clinical trials that were published before the beginning of 1999.

The paper firstly lists 28 conditions for which acupuncture was ‘proven – through controlled trials – to be an effective treatment’.  There are also 63 for which acupuncture was shown to have a ‘therapeutic effect’, although they would like to see more evidence.  For another 9 conditions, acupuncture showed ‘some therapeutic effect’, meaning that it is worth trying when other treatments are less desirable.  I’ve listed all the conditions for which the World Health Organisation recommends acupuncture below.

The research sparked a great deal of credence and interest in acupuncture at the time, and so it was very powerful.  Some people accepted it, while others refuted it.  Yet without it, there would still not be nearly as much research into acupuncture to date.  


The World Health Organisation recommends acupuncture for these diseases, symptoms or conditions, because acupuncture has been ‘prove[d] – through controlled trials – to be an effective treatment’:

  • Adverse reactions to radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy

  • Allergic rhinitis (including hay fever)

  • Biliary colic

  • Depression (including depressive neurosis and depression following stroke)

  • Dysentery, acute bacillary

  • Dysmenorrhoea, primary

  • Epigastralgia, acute (in peptic ulcer, acute and chronic gastritis, and gastrospasm)

  • Facial pain (including craniomandibular disorders)

  • Headache

  • Hypertension, essential

  • Hypotension, primary

  • Induction of labour

  • Knee pain

  • Leukopenia

  • Low back pain

  • Malposition of fetus, correction of

  • Morning sickness

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Neck pain

  • Pain in dentistry (including dental pain and temporomandibular dysfunction)

  • Periarthritis of shoulder

  • Postoperative pain

  • Renal colic

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Sciatica

  • Sprain

  • Stroke

  • Tennis elbow

Diseases, symptoms or conditions for which The World Health Organisation recommends acupuncture because its therapeutic effect has been shown, although further proof is needed:

  • Abdominal pain (in acute gastroenteritis or due to gastrointestinal spasm)

  • Acne vulgaris

  • Alcohol dependence and detoxification

  • Bell’s palsy

  • Bronchial asthma

  • Cancer pain

  • Cardiac neurosis

  • Cholecystitis, chronic, with acute exacerbation

  • Cholelithiasis

  • Competition stress syndrome

  • Craniocerebral injury, closed

  • Diabetes mellitus, non-insulin-dependent

  • Earache

  • Epidemic haemorrhagic fever

  • Epistaxis, simple (without generalised or local disease)

  • Eye pain due to subconjunctival injection

  • Female infertility

  • Facial spasm

  • Female urethral syndrome

  • Fibromyalgia and fasciitis

  • Gastrokinetic disturbance

  • Gouty arthritis

  • Hepatitis B virus carrier status

  • Herpes zoster (human (alpha) herpes virus 3)

  • Hyperlipaemia

  • Hypo-ovarianism

  • Insomnia

  • Labour pain

  • Lactation, deficiency

  • Male sexual dysfunction, non-organic

  • Ménière disease

  • Neuralgia, post-herpetic

  • Neurodermatitis

  • Obesity

  • Opium, cocaine and heroin dependence

  • Osteoarthritis

  • Pain due to endoscopic examination

  • Pain in thromboangiitis obliterans

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (Stein–Leventhal syndrome)

  • Postextubation in children

  • Postoperative convalescence

  • Premenstrual syndrome

  • Prostatitis, chronic

  • Pruritus

  • Radicular and pseudoradicular pain syndrome

  • Raynaud syndrome, primary

  • Recurrent lower urinary-tract infection

  • Reflex sympathetic dystrophy

  • Retention of urine, traumatic

  • Schizophrenia

  • Sialism, drug-induced

  • Sjögren syndrome

  • Sore throat (including tonsillitis)

  • Spine pain, acute

  • Stiff neck

  • Temporomandibular joint dysfunction

  • Tietze syndrome

  • Tobacco dependence

  • Tourette syndrome

  • Ulcerative colitis, chronic

  • Urolithiasis

  • Vascular dementia

  • Whooping cough (pertussis)

Diseases, symptoms or conditions for which only individual controlled trials report some therapeutic effects.  The World Health Organisation recommends acupuncture for these when treatment by conventional and other therapies is difficult:

  • Chloasma

  • Choroidopathy, central serous

  • Colour blindness

  • Deafness

  • Hypophrenia

  • Irritable colon syndrome

  • Neuropathic bladder due to spinal cord injury

  • Pulmonary heart disease, chronic

  • Small airway obstruction

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