Ancient acupuncture can have you breathing easier

Acupuncture is the ancient Chinese healing technique that can beat everything from pain to cigarette addiction -- and now, it might change the face of treatment for one of the world's leading killers.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive lung disease with few treatments and no cure. It's the number three cause of death in the country, and number five on the planet.

If you get it, you'll have it for the rest of your life -- and odds are it will keep getting worse until it kills you.

But now, Japanese researchers say patients who got the usual treatment along with acupuncture were able to breathe easier, walk further and exercise more compared to patients who got a sham version of acupuncture.

Naturally, they also reported a better overall quality of life than those in the sham group.

Those who got real acupuncture were even able to eat better -- no small thing since COPD often robs patients of stomach function, which makes it hard to eat and even harder to get proper levels of nutrition.

The results in the Archives of Internal Medicine are so stunning so-called experts are struggling to explain it. The chief medical officer of the American Lung Association even claimed it might be a placebo effect -- despite the fact that the study had an actual placebo, the sham acupuncture, that didn't produce the same result.

But to scientists familiar with acupuncture, there's no mystery behind this one.

Tong-Joo Gan, MD, a professor of anesthesiology at Duke University Medical Center, told WebMD that studies have shown that acupuncture causes the release of chemicals that relax the lungs and dilate the airways.

Doesn't sound like a placebo to me -- sounds like a very genuine biological effect.

But despite this and other studies that prove acupuncture works, it's still dismissed as "alternative" medicine here in the United States. It's pure arrogance when you consider that acupuncture is the main front-line treatment for any number of diseases and conditions for roughly a quarter of the world's population.

It just doesn't get more "mainstream" than that.

Up next: The benefits of yoga -- they might be even more surprising than acupuncture. Keep reading!