This multicenter, randomized, sham-controlled trial was aimed at assessing the long-term efficacy of acupuncture for chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome (CP/CPPS). Men with moderate to severe CP/CPPS were recruited, regardless of prior exposure to acupuncture. They received sessions of acupuncture or sham acupuncture over 8 weeks, with a 24-week follow-up after treatment. Real acupuncture treatment was used to create the typical de qi sensation, whereas the sham acupuncture treatment (the authors state they used the Streitberger needle, but the drawing looks more as though they used our device) does not generate this feeling.
The primary outcome was the proportion of responders, defined as participants who achieved a clinically important reduction of at least 6 points from baseline on the National Institutes of Health Chronic Prostatitis Symptom Index at weeks 8 and 32. Ascertainment of sustained efficacy required the between-group difference to be statistically significant at both time points.
A total of 440 men (220 in each group) were recruited. At week 8, the proportions of responders were:
- 60.6% (95% CI, 53.7% to 67.1%) in the acupuncture group
- 36.8% (CI, 30.4% to 43.7%) in the sham acupuncture group (adjusted difference, 21.6 percentage points [CI, 12.8 to 30.4 percentage points]; adjusted odds ratio, 2.6 [CI, 1.8 to 4.0]; P < 0.001).
At week 32, the proportions were:
- 61.5% (CI, 54.5% to 68.1%) in the acupuncture group
- 38.3% (CI, 31.7% to 45.4%) in the sham acupuncture group (adjusted difference, 21.1 percentage points [CI, 12.2 to 30.1 percentage points]; adjusted odds ratio, 2.6 [CI, 1.7 to 3.9]; P < 0.001).
Twenty (9.1%) and 14 (6.4%) adverse events were reported in the acupuncture and sham acupuncture groups, respectively. No serious adverse events were reported. No significant difference was found in changes in the International Index of Erectile Function 5 score at all assessment time points or in peak and average urinary flow rates at week 8.
The authors concluded that, compared with sham therapy, 20 sessions of acupuncture over 8 weeks resulted in greater improvement in symptoms of moderate to severe CP/CPPS, with durable effects 24 weeks after treatment.
The study was sponsored by the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences and the National Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The trialists originate from the following institutions:
- 1Guang’anmen Hospital, China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, Beijing, China (Y.S., B.L., Z.Q., J.Z., J.W., X.L., W.W., R.P., H.C., X.W., Z.L.).
- 2Key Laboratory of Chinese Internal Medicine of Ministry of Education, Dongzhimen Hospital, Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, Beijing, China (Y.L.).
- 3ThedaCare Regional Medical Center – Appleton, Appleton, Wisconsin (K.Z.).
- 4Hengyang Hospital Affiliated to Hunan University of Chinese Medicine, Hengyang, China (Z.Y.).
- 5The First Hospital of Hunan University of Chinese Medicine, Changsha, China (W.Z.).
- 6Guangdong Provincial Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Guangzhou, China (W.F.).
- 7The First Affiliated Hospital of Anhui University of Chinese Medicine, Hefei, China (J.Y.).
- 8West China Hospital of Sichuan University, Chengdu, China (N.L.).
- 9China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, Beijing, China (L.H.).
- 10Yantai Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Yantai, China (Z.Z.).
- 11Shaanxi Provincial Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Xi’an, China (T.S.).
- 12The Third Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang Chinese Medical University, Hangzhou, China (J.F.).
- 13Beijing Fengtai Hospital of Integrated Traditional and Western Medicine, Beijing, China (Y.D.).
- 14Xi’an TCM Brain Disease Hospital, Xi’an, China (H.S.).
- 15Dongfang Hospital Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, Beijing, China (H.H.).
- 16Luohu District Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shenzhen, China (H.Z.).
- 17Guizhou University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Guiyang, China (Q.M.).
These facts, together with the previously discussed notion that clinical trials from China are notoriously unreliable, do not inspire confidence. Moreover, one might well wonder about the authors’ claim that patients were blinded. As pointed out above, the real and sham acupuncture were fundamentally different: the former did generate de qi, while the latter did not! A slightly pedantic point is my suspicion that the trial did not test the efficacy but the effectiveness of acupuncture, if I am not mistaken. Finally, one might wonder what the rationale of acupuncture as a treatment of CP/CPPS might be. As far as I can see, there is no plausible mechanism (other than placebo) to explain the effects.
So, is the evidence that emerged from the new study convincing?
No, in my view, it is not!
In fact, I am surprised that a journal as reputable as the Annals of Internal Medicine published it.