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Acupuncturist Andy Rosenfarb, 35, is trying to get the scientific community's validation of acupuncture by playing a part in the first peer-reviewed study on the efficacy of the ancient Chinese practice on lowering intraocular pressure (IOP) in glaucoma patients.

The prospective study is still in its very early stages and is being conducted in conjunction with Robert Ritch, M.D., professor and chief of glaucoma services, New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, N.Y. Upon completion, the research will be presented at the World Congress for Eye Research in Beijing, China in 2008.

Mr. Rosenfarb, of Acupuncture Health Associates, Westfield, N.J., said, The NIH [National Institutes of Health] and the World Health Organization discussed that acupuncture is effective and they made a ruling in 1997; but it's still different from the scientific community if it's not peer reviewed, it's not hard evidence.

He said the research is aimed at not only letting eye doctors become aware of the value of acupuncture in glaucoma patients and possibly utilize it but also at creating public awareness of circumstances where glaucoma patients have adverse reactions to medications and have an alternative option.

At present, Mr. Rosenfarb and Dr. Ritch's research team are just establishing protocols.

[We're] figuring out which points we're going to use to get the best results, he said.

There's got to be 5000 studies out of China, all with different acupuncture points, all with early stage open angle glaucoma, [and] 40 to 50 different acupuncture points.

Mr. Rosenfarb will help in designing the protocols in the study, perform the acupuncture in some cases and help explain the mechanism behind the acupuncture.

How it began

The collaboration with Dr. Ritch on the study was born out of publicity generated by word of mouth after Mr. Rosenfarb's first book, Acupuncture, Acupressure & Chinese Herbs, was published in July.

The book talks about acupuncture and its effectiveness for the eyes, the principles of Chinese medicine in terms of its holistic approach and goes on to list the different types of Chinese medicine that can benefit the eyes. For example, Qigong for the eyes involves the coordination of breathing patterns with certain body movements, essential oils that can help improve circulation to the eyes, nutritional supplements and herbs.

Mr. Rosenfarb said the book is definitely not exhaustive and explains its key point: The big thing is [acupuncture] not a protocol and it's not for everybody. It's not going to help everybody all the time.

He said it's an alternative for somebody who's more holistically minded and having problems with or not getting the desired results from Western medicine.

That doesn't necessarily mean it's going to work; it's just worth pursuing, Mr. Rosenfarb said.

Interested parties inevitably find him because, "Nobody really does what I do," he said. "Nobody that I know has more hands-on experience than I do. I see hundreds [of eye patients] a week, Mr. Rosenfarb said.

He explains how acupuncture works:

There are these little points around the body that are like light switches, so each acupuncture point is like switching on a different light in your house - it can stimulate or regulate a different area of the body.
With regard to the eyes, he said, there can be 20 or 30 different points, local (around the eye) or distal (hands, feet, arms, legs, back of the legs) that can affect the eye. Based on the pattern or based on the symptoms and the whole understanding of the person's condition the acupuncturist will select a few of these points to get the circulation going to the eyes and address any other stressed in other areas of the body, Mr. Rosenfarb said.
For example, with circulation issues, you want to regulate the heart and cardiovascular areas, he said. If there's an infection like Lyme disease going on in the body that's causing eye issues, you want to use acupuncture to stimulate the white blood cells and get the immune system going. So there can be a combination of both, of local points and distal points and the reason you would choose those is based on the specific needs of the patient according to the diagnosis by the practitioner, Mr. Rosenfarb said.

Success stories

Having practiced acupuncture since 1998, Mr. Rosenfarb has seen his fair share of successful patients. For instance, a woman who went to see him with wet macular degeneration diagnosed in one eye, had significant improvement in vision after being treated by Mr. Rosenfarb.

Making sure she had gone to an ophthalmologist before he treated her, and that the bleeding had stopped, Mr. Rosenfarb said he performed about 30 acupuncture treatments and followed up with visual field, patient feedback and the Amsler grid eye test. The patient improved on all levels.

When we finally got to the visual acuity [test] she improved 7 lines in two weeks, which was insane. Most of my patients will improve between 2 to 5 lines but she could read so much better, she didn't have the blurriness, it cleared up, Mr. Rosenfarb said, admitting that this patient's improvement was an anomaly.

He offered the example of another patient who had come from India and was not allowed to fly back because of his high IOP. After about a week and a half of treatment, the man's IOP had dropped from 30 to 18 and after checking with an ophthalmologist, the man was able to get on a plane back to India.

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