Sound Energy Therapy
Sound energy therapy, sometimes referred to as vibrational or frequency therapy, includes music therapy as well as wind chime and tuning fork therapy. The presumptive basis of its effect is that specific sound frequencies resonate with specific organs of the body to heal and support the body. Music therapy has been the most studied among these interventions, with studies dating back to the 1920s, when it was reported that music affected blood pressure.11 Other studies have suggested that music can help reduce pain and anxiety. Music and imagery, alone and in combination, have been used to entrain mood states, reduce acute or chronic pain, and alter certain biochemicals, such as plasma beta-endorphin levels.12 These uses of energy fields truly overlap with the domain of mind-body medicine. (For more information, see NCCAM's backgrounder "Mind-Body Medicine: An Overview.")
Light therapy is the use of natural or artificial light to treat various ailments, but unproven uses of light extend to lasers, colors, and monochromatic lights. High-intensity light therapy has been documented to be useful for seasonal affective disorder, with less evidence for its usefulness in the treatment of more general forms of depression and sleep disorders.13 Hormonal changes have been detected after treatment. Although low-level laser therapy is claimed to be useful for relieving pain, reducing inflammation, and helping to heal wounds, strong scientific proof of these effects is still needed.14
Energy Medicine Involving Putative Energy Fields
The concept that sickness and disease arise from imbalances in the vital energy field of the body has led to many forms of therapy. In TCM, a series of approaches are taken to rectify the flow of qi, such as herbal medicine, acupuncture (and its various versions), qi gong, diet, and behavior changes.
Of these approaches, acupuncture is the most prominent therapy to promote qi flow along the meridians. Acupuncture has been extensively studied and has been shown to be effective in treating some conditions, particularly certain forms of pain.1 However, its mechanism of action remains to be elucidated. The main threads of research on acupuncture have shown regional effects on neurotransmitter expression, but have not validated the existence of an "energy" per se.
Qi gong, another energy modality that purportedly can restore health, is practiced widely in the clinics and hospitals of China. Most of the reports were published as abstracts in Chinese, which makes accessing the information difficult. But Sancier has collected more than 2,000 records in his qi gong database which indicates that qi gong has extensive health benefits on conditions ranging from blood pressure to asthma.15 The reported studies, however, are largely anecdotal case series and not randomized controlled trials. Few studies have been conducted outside China and reported in peer-reviewed journals in English. There have been no large clinical trials.
Whole Medical Systems and Energy Medicine
Although modalities such as acupuncture and qi gong have been studied separately, TCM uses combinations of treatments (e.g., herbs, acupuncture, and qi gong) in practice. Similarly, Ayurvedic medicine uses combinations of herbal medicine, yoga, meditation, and other approaches to restore vital energy, particularly at the chakra energy centers. (For more information on TCM and Ayurvedic medicine, see NCCAM's backgrounder "Whole Medical Systems: An Overview.")