School of acupuncture in Newton receives funding to help healveterans
Wicked Local staff photo by Jim Walker
Acupuncturist Christine Lee works on John Overcash of Ayer, an Army veteran of the Gulf War, at her office inFramingham, Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010. The New England School of Acupuncture in Newton recently received a $1.2million grant to study the effects of treatment on war veterans.
By Laura Paine/Staff Writer
Wicked Local NewtonPosted Oct 26, 2010 @ 02:08 PMLast update Oct 27, 2010 @ 11:27 AM
Newton — When Army veteran John Overcash heard that the New England School of Acupuncture in Newton had received funding for the first trial of using acupuncture to treatGulf War Illness, he signed up without hesitation.Recently, the school received a $1.2 million U.S. Department of Defense grant to fund thefirst-ever clinical trial, “Effectiveness of Acupuncture in the Treatment of Gulf War Illness.”Overcash, formerly of Brookline, joined active Army duty at the age of 21 when he decidedhe was not ready for college life. He fought in the Gulf War and retired from the Army in1997. Since then, he has experienced several aches, pains and stiffened joints that he believesare related to what is now called Gulf War Illness — a syndrome characterized by fatigue,musculoskeletal pain, headaches, dizziness, memory problems and several other symptomsfor which doctors can find no definitive cause.“The Gulf War was hot, sandy, tough, and we worked all day and all night long,” Overcashsaid. “There wasn’t a lot of rest involved. We were exposed to oil well fire smoke and stuff like that. A lot of guys never thought, at the time, of the Gulf War Illness, because it’s atough life. It’s hard on your body, being in the military, and going to war is even tougherbecause you are working longer days under much more stressful conditions. You figure [thesymptoms] go with the territory.”More than 100,000 of the 700,000 Gulf War veterans describe chronic multisymptomillnesses that continue for several years despite treatment. Lisa Conboy, co-director of theResearch Department and chairwoman of the Biomedical Department at the school, saidmany veterans are receiving treatment for their symptoms, but reports from a five- and 10-year follow up show that the symptoms, some of which are severe and disabling, persist.“These guys have been sick, some for a very long time, and there are so many of them thathave had it and are eager to try new things,” Conboy said. “There is a lot of good evidencethat acupuncture works for pain and many of the symptoms of Gulf War Illness. Each timethe patient comes in, the practitioner goes through what the symptoms are that day, and thetreatment is very individualized.”Meredith St. John, academic dean at the school, said the way acupuncture works is amystery and the subject of ongoing research. She said that one way of looking at acupunctureis a signaling system.“When we think about acupuncture from the biomedical perspective, we think of it as asignal system and try to figure out how the signal is being transmitted,” St. John said. “Youput these tiny needles into these spots, and it has far-reaching effects all over the body.”She also said other treatments for Gulf War Illness have not been particularly helpful.“In other studies and with other clinical populations, it has been able to help people withpain, fatigue, feeling irritable and depressed, so we thought it was reasonable to try and see if it could be helpful for people with GWI,” she said.Overcash began acupuncture in May after his wife had been treated at the school, and henoticed a real difference in her and her quality of life. He said after two or three weeks of