Andrew Weil advocates cupping


Andrew Weil is working to cheapen my degree, and yours if you’re a Wildcat. The director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, Dr. Weil mixes good medical advice, most of which boils down to “eat better and get more exercise,” with rank bullshit. He advocates (among other nonsense) homeopathy, Ayurveda, and osteopathic manipulations for ear infections.  I’ve been on his mailing list ever since curiosity drove me to take his Vitamin Evaluation (which indicated that I need $147/month worth of supplements).  Honestly, most of it’s pretty unobjectionable: foods you should eat more of, healthy recipes, exercise advice…stuff like that. But, as I’ve said before:

I know Dr. Weil gives a lot of good advice. He also advises a lot of nonsense. A doctor who advises his patients to get their chakras aligned is a quack. A doctor who advises his patients to eat a healthy diet, get more exercise, quit smoking, and get their chakras aligned is still a quack.

I’m often surprised by people who I think of as skeptics but who defend Dr. Weil on the basis of that good advice, but I stand by this logic. A banker who embezzles is a criminal; a banker who loves his children, is faithful to his wife, pays his taxes, volunteers at the local homeless shelter and embezzles is still a criminal. So I’m going to keep objecting to Dr. Weil’s nonsense, even while acknowledging the good advice. Speaking of, the Dr. Weil’s latest email includes this completely uncritical post about the Traditional Chinese Medicine practice of cupping:

Cupping is a 2,500-year-old Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) technique. TCM is a healing system of Eastern medicine that incorporates therapies that are in some cases millennia older. In addition to treating illness, TCM focuses on strengthening the body’s defenses and enhancing its capacity for healing and maintaining health.

Cupping is one of TCM’s practices, and involves placing special cups filled with heated air on painful areas of the body. As the cups cool, the volume of air within them shrinks, creating suction on the skin that increases blood flow to the area. It can be used to:

  • Relieve aches and pains
  • Address respiratory problems
  • Ease coughs and wheezing
  • Improve circulation
  • Minimize menstrual symptoms

Cupping can leave bruises that can take a week or more to fade. Sessions should be done by a licensed acupuncturist, and typically last 10 to 15 minutes. Once the marks from the previous session have disappeared, treatment can be repeated.

Cupping is, of course, nonsense, as smarter people than me have pointed out. From Steven Novella at Science-Based Medicine:

Cupping is no different than acupuncture, bloodletting, phrenology, or any other medical pseudoscience. The treatment is based in pre-scientific superstitions, and has simply been rebranded to more effectively market the treatment to modern customers.

The red flags in this post are telling. There’s the argument from antiquity, the bullshit about boosting the immune system (“strengthening the body’s defenses”), the list of subjective symptoms (easily influenced by placebo), and the endorsement of “licensed acupuncturist[s]” (who presumably know where the real chi meridians are). And that’s aside from the fact that there’s no good evidence that it works. It’s clear to me that Dr. Weil’s ambiguous relationship with evidence hasn’t changed.


  1. Lofty says

    TCM has been promoted into the 21C by having a TWA (three word acronym). How modern and venerable all at the same time!!!

  2. says

    Cupping is a 2,500-year-old Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) technique.

    A 2,500 year-long population study, in other words. If there were a significant benefit to anyone other than the quacks, it would have been apparent by now.
    Instead, if you look at life expectancy in China, it was pretty poor until around 1960 (I have no idea why)

    Perhaps the bump in longevity is because of, you know, real medicine, not the 2,500 years of fail-medicine.

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