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Book review
  1. David F Mayor
  1. Correspondence to Mr David F Mayor, 86 Handside Lane, Welwyn Garden City, Herts AL8 6SJ, UK; davidmayor{at}welwynacupuncture.co.uk

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Essentials of electroacupuncture. Theories and treatments of stroke paresis; review of five element theory By Jeung Ho Choi. . Published by the author, Burbank, CA, 2009, $111.34. ISBN 978-1-439-21927-0

This ambitious little book (245 pages, 203 × 133 mm) packs a bewildering number of punches. Billed as a ‘formal textbook’ on electroacupuncture (EA), with nearly 50 pages of useful point prescriptions for stroke paresis, peripheral polyneuropathy and a number of other disorders, it also aims to provide ‘an in-depth review of the highest principles of acupuncture from a historical perspective’ (in three short chapters, totalling 33 pages, mostly on five element theory and numerology). In addition, it includes brief chapters on acupuncture education, research, paediatrics, contraindications and practicalities, and one on moxibustion (which the author consistently emphasises as a complement to needle acupuncture if the latter is to be fully effective). The bulk of the book (95 pages) is taken up with standard lists of the acupuncture points, their indications, uses and names in Pinyin and Chinese characters. It closes with chapters on meditation, the Buddhist Prajna-Paramita-Hridaya-Sutra and ‘attainment’ in the Hindu Vedic tradition and Chandogya Upanisad. It appears to have been compiled originally as a personal vade mecum rather than anything more formal (indeed, before publication it was subtitled a ‘bedside textbook’).

The author, of Korean extraction, learnt his acupuncture in evening classes at a local acupuncture school (presumably in the USA rather than Korea) more than 20 years ago. Confused by the teaching received there, he has written a book which attempts to ‘make over conflicting prescriptions into one working prescription’. At the same time, he acknowledges that the ‘acupuncture system is constructed on infinite non-linear logics’. Based on a ‘Confucian Taoist’ philosophical framework, his language is not always easy to understand, his presentation is not linear and his grasp of historical verities and the experimental evidence for EA is incomplete. His recommendation when using an electrical point finder to moisten the skin beforehand using alcohol is hardly standard practice (although it does have precedents in the work of Niboyet1 and Pomeranz2). His belief that needles were ‘manipulated in the old days to generate low frequency electric current by friction’ is bizarrely anachronistic, and his statement that points along a disordered meridian are enlarged and so ‘have turned into Mu points’ hardly respects traditional terminology. As the author writes, ‘understanding five element takes much longer time than learning and practising technical acupuncture’. Throughout, his language is highly idiosyncratic.

Dr Choi has created his own ‘laws’, based on an understanding that acupuncture (not just EA) ‘works by way of electromagnetic force’. For example, when using EA negative leads should be connected to needles on the affected side (or, failing that, on the right side for right-handers and vice versa for left-handers), never using needles of opposite polarity on the same side, but always bilaterally, never on the midline and never to points contraindicated for moxibustion. Currents for neurological conditions should have a sawtooth waveform, a low frequency (2–5 Hz) and not exceed 100 μA in amplitude (well below motor level), and so on.

Self-publication without proper critical safeguards, peer review and thorough training is a risky business. It is all too easy to create new systems that are not properly grounded in tradition and may be ridiculed by those who, trained in accepted methods, do not wish to countenance a maverick originality of approach. Acupuncture is still not accepted by many Western doctors. To publish something that is too ‘far out’ may not be in the interests of acupuncture as a whole.

And yet, for all his scientific muddles and uncritical attempts to reconcile traditional ideas of energy circulation and the modern technique of EA, Dr Choi's is somehow an endearing book. Anyone trained in biomedicine (like Dr Choi, or Felix Mann in an earlier generation) and who struggles through the complexities of traditional acupuncture theory without adequate guidance may well make original contributions to the field precisely because they do not get everything ‘right’. There may well be gems of pragmatic knowledge in the point prescriptions the author provides. However, sometimes he does stretch things a little far—for example, when he modifies traditional point prescriptions on the basis of clinical trials and ‘reconstructed by five element numerology rules’, as in his non-standard but intriguing prescription for (female?) infertility ‘combined from existing literature’: BL32, BL33, KI1, KI2, KI18, LR8, LR11, CV3 and CV4, with moxibustion at all points, particularly BL32, the CV points and around CV4.

The author's point prescriptions are worth investigating, but otherwise this a confusing and expensive book that attempts too much in the space available.

References

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Footnotes

  • Competing interests DFM is the editor of Electroacupuncture: A practical manual and resource (Churchill Livingstone, 2007).

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.

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