MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

As it is ‘ACUPUNCTURE AWARENESS WEEK’, I thought I make a constructive contribution to this field by assessing what is currently being published on the subject. For this purpose, I looked at the first 100 Medline-listed articles of 2016. This has the advantage, of course, that all the numbers thus generated can be seen as absolute and as percentage figures at the same time. I categorised the articles according to where they were published and what their subject was.

My results show that, of the first 100 articles,

  • 33 were published in CAM journals,
  • 67  were published in mainstream medical journals,
  • 6 were RCTs,
  • 6 were other clinical studies,
  • 30 were pre-clinical investigations,
  • 27 were systematic reviews,
  • 8 were surveys,
  • 23 were other types of papers.

I have to admit, these results are not as bad as I had feared. What seems impressive is foremost the notion that acupuncture research has entered the mainstream journals. But there are issues that might be of concern; in my view these results suggest that:

  • Too little research is focussed on the two big questions: efficacy and safety.
  • In relation to the meagre output in RCTs, there are too many systematic reviews.
  • As long as we cannot be sure that acupuncture is more than a placebo, all these pre-clinical studies seem a bit out of place.
  • The vast majority of the articles were in low or very low impact journals.
  • There was only one paper that I would consider outstanding (my next post will discuss it).

So, what conclusions can one draw from these data?

Not many, I fear.

My little exploration does not lend itself to grand, generalizable or far-reaching conclusions. Acupuncture fans might proudly say: LOOK HOW FAR WE HAVE COME! Less enthusiastic experts, however, might think: LOOK HOW FAR YOU HAVE TO GO!

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