For centuries, acupuncture has been used as a treatment for body aches. In fact, gold thread acupuncture – a technique that involves inserting small pieces of sterile gold thread into the body with an acupuncture needle – is supposed to be especially effective at treating swelling and pain in the joints. However, doctors may have found strong evidence to the contrary.
In a recent medical case study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, a 58-year-old female presented to a South Korean clinic with long-standing rheumatoid arthritis in both hands and feet. Forty years prior, she began using gold thread acupuncture to relieve her symptoms. In the above x-ray image, the bright hair-like lines are the amount of gold accumulated from years of receiving that procedure. Unfortunately, the extensive damage and deformity of the joints would seem to indicate that the gold thread acupuncture was completely ineffective.
However, that doesn’t mean that gold is completely unable to treat arthritis. Aurotherapy is a branch of medicine that uses chemical compounds derived from gold to treat certain diseases. In its metallic state, gold is completely inert and does not react with the human body in any way – which would explain why gold thread acupuncture did not improve this patient’s symptoms. In order to make a viable medication, the gold must be converted into metal thiolate complexes such as gold thioglucose, gold sodium thiosulfate, or sodium aurothiomalate – all of which have anti-inflammatory properties that can be used to treat conditions like arthritis.
In the end, the patient was put on a treatment regimen using the drugs methotrexate and abatacept, which reportedly led to a substantial reduction in joint pain. However, the gold remains in her hands.
Joo, Y.-B. & Park, K.-S. Gold Thread Acupuncture for Rheumatoid Arthritis. The New England Journal of Medicine (2017). doi: 10.1056/NEJMicm1706737