Chinese studies

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Manual therapy is considered a safe and less painful method and has been increasingly used to alleviate chronic neck pain. However, there is controversy about the effectiveness of manipulation therapy on chronic neck pain. Therefore, this systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) aimed to determine the effectiveness of manipulative therapy for chronic neck pain.

A search of the literature was conducted on seven databases (PubMed, Cochrane Center Register of Controlled Trials, Embase, Medline, CNKI, WanFang, and SinoMed) from the establishment of the databases to May 2022. The review included RCTs on chronic neck pain managed with manipulative therapy compared with sham, exercise, and other physical therapies. The retrieved records were independently reviewed by two researchers. Further, the methodological quality was evaluated using the PEDro scale. All statistical analyses were performed using RevMan V.5.3 software. The Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluations (GRADE) assessment was used to evaluate the quality of the study results.

Seventeen RCTs, including 1190 participants, were included in this meta-analysis. Manipulative therapy showed better results regarding pain intensity and neck disability than the control group. Manipulative therapy was shown to relieve pain intensity (SMD = -0.83; 95% confidence interval [CI] = [-1.04 to -0.62]; p < 0.0001) and neck disability (MD = -3.65; 95% CI = [-5.67 to – 1.62]; p = 0.004). However, the studies had high heterogeneity, which could be explained by the type and control interventions. In addition, there were no significant differences in adverse events between the intervention and the control groups.

The authors concluded that manipulative therapy reduces the degree of chronic neck pain and neck disabilities.

Only a few days ago, we discussed another systematic review that drew quite a different conclusion: there was very low certainty evidence supporting cervical SMT as an intervention to reduce pain and improve disability in people with neck pain. Image result for systematic review, cartoon

How can this be?

Systematic reviews are supposed to generate reliable evidence!

How can we explain the contradiction?

There are several differences between the two papers:

  • One was published in a SCAM journal and the other one in a mainstream medical journal.
  • One was authored by Chinese researchers, the other one by an international team.
  • One included 17, the other one 23 RCTs.
  • One assessed ‘manual/manipulative therapies’, the other one spinal manipulation/mobilization.

The most profound difference is that the review by the Chinese authors is mostly on Chimese massage [tuina], while the other paper is on chiropractic or osteopathic spinal manipulation/mobilization. A look at the Chinese authors’ affiliation is revealing:

  • Department of Tuina and Spinal Diseases Research, The Third School of Clinical Medicine (School of Rehabilitation Medicine), Zhejiang Chinese Medical University, Hangzhou, China.
  • Department of Tuina and Spinal Diseases Research, The Third School of Clinical Medicine (School of Rehabilitation Medicine), Zhejiang Chinese Medical University, Hangzhou, China; Department of Tuina, The Third Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang Chinese Medical University, Hangzhou, China. Electronic address: [email protected].
  • Department of Tuina and Spinal Diseases Research, The Third School of Clinical Medicine (School of Rehabilitation Medicine), Zhejiang Chinese Medical University, Hangzhou, China; Department of Tuina, The Third Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang Chinese Medical University, Hangzhou, China. Electronic address: [email protected].

What lesson can we learn from this confusion?

Perhaps that Tuina is effective for neck pain?


What the abstract does not tell us is that the Tuina studies are of such poor quality that the conclusions drawn by the Chinese authors are not justified.

What we do learn – yet again – is that

  1. Chinese papers need to be taken with a large pintch of salt. In the present case, the searches underpinning the review and the evaluations of the included primary studies were clearly poorly conducted.
  2. Rubbish journals publish rubbish papers. How could the reviewers and the editors have missed the many flaws of this paper? The answer seems to be that they did not care. SCAM journals tend to publish any nonsense as long as the conclusion is positive.


This study investigated the potential benefits of auricular point acupressure on cerebrovascular function and stroke prevention among adults with a high risk of stroke.

A randomized controlled study was performed with 105 adults at high risk for stroke between March and July 2021. Participants were randomly allocated to receive either

  • auricular point acupressure with basic lifestyle interventions (n = 53) or
  • basic lifestyle interventions alone (n = 52) for 2 weeks.

The primary outcome was the kinematic and dynamic indices of cerebrovascular function, as well as the CVHP score at week 2, measured by the Doppler ultrasonography and pressure transducer on carotids.

Of the 105 patients, 86 finished the study. At week 2, the auricular point acupressure therapy with lifestyle intervention group had higher kinematic indices, cerebrovascular hemodynamic parameters score, and lower dynamic indices than the lifestyle intervention group.

The authors concluded that ccerebrovascular function and cerebrovascular hemodynamic parameters score were greater improved among the participants undergoing auricular point acupressure combined with lifestyle interventions than lifestyle interventions alone. Hence, the auricular point acupressure can assist the stroke prevention.

Acupuncture is a doubtful therapy.

Acupressure is even more questionable.

Ear acupressure is outright implausible.

The authors discuss that the physiological mechanism underlying the effect of APA therapy on cerebrovascular hemodynamic function is not fully understood at present. There may be two possible explanations.

  • First, a previous study has demonstrated that auricular acupuncture can directly increase mean blood flow velocity in the middle cerebral artery.
  • Second, cerebrovascular hemodynamic function is indirectly influenced by the effect of APA therapy on blood pressure.

I think there is a much simpler explanation: the observed effects are directly or indirectly due to placebo. As regular listeners of this blog know only too well by now, the A+B versus B study design cannot account for placebo effects. Sadly, the authors of this study hardly discuss this explanation – that’s why they had to publish their findings in just about the worst SCAM journal of them all: EBCAM.

Two years ago, I published a blog about the research activity in SCAM. To demonstrate the volume of SCAM research I looked into Medline to find the number of papers published in 2020 for the SCAMs listed below. Now I repeated the exercise for the year 2022. The respective 1st numbers below are those of 2020, and the second ones refer to 2022 (in bold):

  • acupuncture 2 752 – 3,565               
  • anthroposophic medicine 29 – 28
  • aromatherapy 173 – 205
  • Ayurvedic medicine 183 – 249
  • chiropractic 426 – 498
  • dietary supplement 5 739 – 8,915
  • essential oil 2 439 – 3,340
  • herbal medicine 5 081 – 16,207
  • homeopathy 154 – 212
  • iridology 0 – 0
  • Kampo medicine 132 – 176
  • massage 824 – 996
  • meditation 780 – 1,016
  • mind-body therapies 968 – 1,616
  • music therapy 539 – 716
  • naturopathy 68 – 92
  • osteopathic manipulation 71 – 85
  • Pilates 97 – 152
  • qigong 97 – 121
  • reiki 133 – 158
  • tai chi 397 – 470
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine 15 277 – 22,586
  • yoga 698 – 837 

These data suggest the following:

  1. As before, the research activity in SCAM seems relatively low.
  2. Most numbers are pretty stable with a slight overall increase.
  3. The meager numbers for anthroposophic medicine, homeopathy, iridology, Kampo, and naturopathy are remarkable.
  4. In absolute terms, only acupuncture, dietary supplements, essential oil, herbal medicine, and TCM are impressive; by and large, these are areas where commercial interest and sponsors exist.
  5. The ‘big winners’ in terms of increase over time are acupuncture, supplements, essential oil, herbal medicine, and TCM; I suspect that much of this is due to the fast-growing (and repeatedly mentioned) influence that China is gaining in SCAM.

This systematic review and meta-analysis aimed to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) combined with Western medicine (WM) in comparison with WM in reducing systolic and diastolic blood pressure for patients with primary hypertension (PHTN).

Various literature searches located a total of 29 studies that included 2623 patients. The results showed that the clinical effectiveness in the treatment of hypertension with CHM+WM was considerably higher than that with WM alone, clinical effective (RR 1.23, 95% CI [1.17, 1.30], P < 0.00001), and markedly effective (ME) in the patients (RR 1.66, 95% CI [1.52, 1.80], and P < 0.00001). Random effect in SBP (MD 7.91 mmHg,[6.00, 983], P < 0.00001) and DBP (MD 5.46 mmHg, [3.88, 6.43], P < 0.00001), a subgroup analysis was carried out based on the type of intervention, duration of treatment, and CHM formulas that showed significance. Furthermore, no severe side effects were reported, and no patients stopped treatment or withdrawal due to any severe adverse events.

The authors concluded that compared to WM alone, the therapeutic effectiveness of CHM combined with WM is significantly improved in the treatment of hypertension. Additionally, CHM with WM may safely and efficiently lower systolic blood pressure (SBP) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) in individuals with PHTN. However, rigorous randomized controlled trials with a large sample, high quality, long duration of treatment, and follow-up are recommended to strengthen this clinical evidence.

The authors can boast of an impressive list of affiliations:

  • 1Heilongjiang University of Chinese Medicine, Harbin, 150040, Heilongjiang, China; School of Pharmacy, Lebanese International University, 18644, Sana’a, Yemen.
  • 2Heilongjiang University of Chinese Medicine, Harbin, 150040, Heilongjiang, China.
  • 3Key Laboratory of Chinese Materia Medica, Ministry of Education of Heilongjiang University of Chinese Medicine, Harbin, 150040, Heilongjiang, China.
  • 4Department of Urology, Affiliated Hospital of Qingdao Binhai University, Qingdao, Shandong, China.
  • 5Department of Respiratory Diseases, Shandong Second Provincial General Hospital, Shandong University, Shandong, China.
  • 6Heilongjiang University of Chinese Medicine, Harbin, 150040, Heilongjiang, China. Electronic address: [email protected].

Impressive in the sense of being impressively prone to bias, particularly knowing that ~80% of Chinese research findings have been shown to be fabricated and considering that Chinese authors as good as never publish anything negative about TCM.

But perhaps you still believe that the results reported here are 100% true? In this case, I might even agree with you. The reason is that the authors demonstrate in exemplary fashion what I have been saying so often before:

A+B is more than B alone!

Blood pressure is one of the many endpoints that are highly prone to placebo effects. Therefore, even the addition of an ineffective CHM to WM would lower blood pressure more effectively than WM alone.

But there is a third way of explaining the findings of this review: some herbal remedies might actually have a hypotensive effect. The trouble is that this review does come not even close to telling us which.

This pilot study tested the feasibility of using US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)–recommended endpoints to evaluate the efficacy of acupuncture in the treatment of IBS. It was designed as a multicenter randomized clinical trial, conducted in 4 tertiary hospitals in China from July 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021, and 14-week data collection was completed in March 2021. Individuals with a diagnosis of IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D) were randomized to 1 of 3 groups:

  1. acupuncture groups 1 (using specific acupoints [SA])
  2. acupuncture group 2 (using nonspecific acupoints [NSA])
  3. sham acupuncture group (non-acupoints [NA])

Patients in all groups received twelve 30-minute sessions over 4 consecutive weeks at 3 sessions per week, ideally every other day.

The primary outcome was the response rate at week 4, which was defined as the proportion of patients whose worst abdominal pain score (score range, 0-10, with 0 indicating no pain and 10 indicating unbearable severe pain) decreased by at least 30% and the number of type 6 or 7 stool days decreased by 50% or greater.

Ninety patients (54 male [60.0%]; mean [SD] age, 34.5 [11.3] years) were enrolled, with 30 patients in each group. There were substantial improvements in the primary outcomes for all groups

  • response rates in the SA group = 46.7% [95% CI, 28.8%-65.4%]
  • response rate in the NSA group = 46.7% [95% CI, 28.8%-65.4%]
  • response rate in the NA group = 26.7% [95% CI, 13.0%-46.2%]

The difference between the groups was not statistically significant (P = .18). The response rates of adequate relief at week 4 were 64.3% (95% CI, 44.1%-80.7%) in the SA group, 62.1% (95% CI, 42.4%-78.7%) in the NSA group, and 55.2% (95% CI, 36.0%-73.0%) in the NA group (P = .76). Adverse events were reported in 2 patients (6.7%) in the SA group and 3 patients (10%) in NSA or NA group.

The authors concluded that acupuncture in both the SA and NSA groups showed clinically meaningful improvement in IBS-D symptoms, although there were no significant differences among the 3 groups. These findings suggest that acupuncture is feasible and safe; a larger, sufficiently powered trial is needed to accurately assess efficacy.


Here are some of the most obvious issues I have with this new study:

  • A pilot study is not about reporting effectiveness/efficacy but about testing the feasibility of a study.
  • That acupuncture is feasible has been known for ~2000 years.
  • The conclusion that acupuncture is safe is not warranted on the basis of the data; for that we would need a much larger investigation.
  • The authors seem to have used our sham needle without acknowledging it.
  • The authors are affiliated with the International Acupuncture and Moxibustion Innovation Institute, School of Acupuncture-Moxibustion and Tuina, Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, yet they state that they have no conflicts of interest.
  • The results are clearly negative, yet the authors seem to attempt to draw a positive conclusion.

The main question that occurs to me is this: how low has the JAMA sunk to publish such junk?

Earlier this year, I started the ‘WORST PAPER OF 2022 COMPETITION’. As a prize, I am offering the winner (that is the lead author of the winning paper) one of my books that best fits his/her subject. I am sure this will overjoy him or her. I hope to identify about 10 candidates for the prize, and towards the end of the year, I let my readers decide democratically on who should be the winner. In this spirit of democratic voting, let me suggest to you entry No 9. Here is the unadulterated abstract:


With the increasing popularity of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) by the global community, how to teach basic knowledge of TCM to international students and improve the teaching quality are important issues for teachers of TCM. The present study was to analyze the perceptions from both students and teachers on how to improve TCM learning internationally.


A cross-sectional national survey was conducted at 23 universities/colleges across China. A structured, self-reported on-line questionnaire was administered to 34 Chinese teachers who taught TCM course in English and to 1016 international undergraduates who were enrolled in the TCM course in China between 2017 and 2021.


Thirty-three (97.1%) teachers and 900 (88.6%) undergraduates agreed Chinese culture should be fully integrated into TCM courses. All teachers and 944 (92.9%) undergraduates thought that TCM had important significance in the clinical practice. All teachers and 995 (97.9%) undergraduates agreed that modern research of TCM is valuable. Thirty-three (97.1%) teachers and 959 (94.4%) undergraduates thought comparing traditional medicine in different countries with TCM can help the students better understand TCM. Thirty-two (94.1%) teachers and 962 (94.7%) undergraduates agreed on the use of practical teaching method with case reports. From the perceptions of the undergraduates, the top three beneficial learning styles were practice (34.3%), teacher’s lectures (32.5%), case studies (10.4%). The first choice of learning mode was attending to face-to-face teaching (82.3%). The top three interesting contents were acupuncture (75.5%), Chinese herbal medicine (63.8%), and massage (55.0%).


To improve TCM learning among international undergraduates majoring in conventional medicine, integration of Chinese culture into TCM course, comparison of traditional medicine in different countries with TCM, application of the teaching method with case reports, and emphasization of clinical practice as well as modern research on TCM should be fully considered.

I am impressed with this paper mainly because to me it does not make any sense at all. To be blunt, I find it farcically nonsensical. What precisely? Everything:

  • the research question,
  • the methodology,
  • the conclusion
  • the write-up,
  • the list of authors and their affiliations: Department of Chinese Integrative Medicine, Women’s Hospital, School of Medicine, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China, Department of Traditional Chinese Medicine, School of Basic Medicine, Qingdao University, Qingdao, China, Department of Chinese Integrative Medicine, The Second Affiliated Hospital of Kunming Medical University, Kunming, China, Department of Traditional Chinese Medicine, The Affiliated Hospital of Xuzhou Medical University, Xuzhou, China, Department of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Medical College, China Three Gorges University, Yichang, China, Basic Teaching and Research Department of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Xinjiang Medical University, Urumqi, China, Institute of Integrative Medicine, Dalian Medical University, Dalian, China, Department of Chinese and Western Medicine, Chongqing Medical University, Chongqing, China, Department of Chinese and Western Medicine, North Sichuan Medical College, Nanchong, China, Department of Chinese and Western Medicine, School of Medicine, Xiamen University, Xiamen, China, School of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Capital Medical University, Beijing, China, School of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Southern Medical University, Guangzhou, China, Department of Traditional Chinese Medicine, The First Affiliated Hospital of Soochow University, Suzhou, China, Department of Traditional Chinese Medicine, School of Medicine, Xiamen University, Xiamen, China, Department of Chinese Medicine/Department of Chinese Integrative Medicine, The First Affiliated Hospital of Anhui Medical University, Hefei, China, Department of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shengjing Hospital Affiliated to China Medical University, Shenyang, China, Department of Acupuncture, Affiliated Hospital of Jiangsu University, Zhenjiang, China, Teaching and Research Section of Traditional Chinese Medicine, The Second Affiliated Hospital of Soochow University, Suzhou, China, Department of Traditional Chinese Medicine, The Second Affiliated Hospital of Harbin Medical University, Harbin, China, Department of Chinese Medicine, The First Affiliated Hospital of Anhui Medical University, Hefei, China, Department of Chinese Medicine, The First Affiliated Hospital of Kunming Medical University, Kunming, China, Department of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shengli Clinical Medical College of Fujian Medical University, Fuzhou, China, Department of Chinese Medicine, The First Affiliated Hospital of Jinzhou Medicine University, Jinzhou, China, Department of Integrated Traditional and Western Medicine, The First Affiliated Hospital of Harbin Medical University, Harbin, China, Department of Chinese Medicine, The Second Affiliated Hospital of Guangzhou Medical University, Guangzhou, China, Department of Traditional Chinese Medicine, The First Affiliated Hospital of Fujian Medical University, Fuzhou, China.
  • the journal that had this paper peer-reviewed and published.

But what impressed me most with this paper is the way the authors managed to avoid even the slightest hint of critical thinking. They even included a short paragraph in the discussion section where they elaborate on the limitations of their work without ever discussing the true flaws in the conception and execution of this extraordinary example of pseudoscience.

Is acupuncture more than a theatrical placebo? Acupuncture fans are convinced that the answer to this question is YES. Perhaps this paper will make them think again.

A new analysis mapped the systematic reviews, conclusions, and certainty or quality of evidence for outcomes of acupuncture as a treatment for adult health conditions. Computerized search of PubMed and 4 other databases from 2013 to 2021. Systematic reviews of acupuncture (whole body, auricular, or electroacupuncture) for adult health conditions that formally rated the certainty, quality, or strength of evidence for conclusions. Studies of acupressure, fire acupuncture, laser acupuncture, or traditional Chinese medicine without mention of acupuncture were excluded. Health condition, number of included studies, type of acupuncture, type of comparison group, conclusions, and certainty or quality of evidence. Reviews with at least 1 conclusion rated as high-certainty evidence, reviews with at least 1 conclusion rated as moderate-certainty evidence and reviews with all conclusions rated as low- or very low-certainty evidence; full list of all conclusions and certainty of evidence.

A total of 434 systematic reviews of acupuncture for adult health conditions were found; of these, 127 reviews used a formal method to rate the certainty or quality of evidence of their conclusions, and 82 reviews were mapped, covering 56 health conditions. Across these, there were 4 conclusions that were rated as high-certainty evidence and 31 conclusions that were rated as moderate-certainty evidence. All remaining conclusions (>60) were rated as low- or very low-certainty evidence. Approximately 10% of conclusions rated as high or moderate-certainty were that acupuncture was no better than the comparator treatment, and approximately 75% of high- or moderate-certainty evidence conclusions were about acupuncture compared with a sham or no treatment.

Three evidence maps (pain, mental conditions, and other conditions) are shown below

The authors concluded that despite a vast number of randomized trials, systematic reviews of acupuncture for adult health conditions have rated only a minority of conclusions as high- or moderate-certainty evidence, and most of these were about comparisons with sham treatment or had conclusions of no benefit of acupuncture. Conclusions with moderate or high-certainty evidence that acupuncture is superior to other active therapies were rare.

These findings are sobering for those who had hoped that acupuncture might be effective for a range of conditions. Despite the fact that, during recent years, there have been numerous systematic reviews, the evidence remains negative or flimsy. As 34 reviews originate from China, and as we know about the notorious unreliability of Chinese acupuncture research, this overall result is probably even more negative than the authors make it out to be.

Considering such findings, some people (including the authors of this analysis) feel that we now need more and better acupuncture trials. Yet I wonder whether this is the right approach. Would it not be better to call it a day, concede that acupuncture generates no or only relatively minor effects, and focus our efforts on more promising subjects?

An international team of researchers described retracted papers originating from paper mills, including their characteristics, visibility, and impact over time, and the journals in which they were published. The term paper mill refers to for-profit organizations that engage in the large-scale production and sale of papers to researchers, academics, and students who wish to, or have to, publish in peer-reviewed journals. Many paper mill papers included fabricated data.

All paper mill papers retracted from 1 January 2004 to 26 June 2022 were included in the study. Papers bearing an expression of concern were excluded. Descriptive statistics were used to characterize the sample and analyze the trend of retracted paper mill papers over time, and to analyze their impact and visibility by reference to the number of citations received.

In total, 1182 retracted paper mill papers were identified. The publication of the first paper mill paper was in 2004 and the first retraction was in 2016; by 2021, paper mill retractions accounted for 772 (21.8%) of the 3544 total retractions. Overall, retracted paper mill papers were mostly published in journals of the second highest Journal Citation Reports quartile for impact factor (n=529 (44.8%)) and listed four to six authors (n=602 (50.9%)). Of the 1182 papers, almost all listed authors of 1143 (96.8%) paper mill retractions came from Chinese institutions, and 909 (76.9%) listed a hospital as a primary affiliation. 15 journals accounted for 812 (68.7%) of 1182 paper mill retractions, with one journal accounting for 166 (14.0%). Nearly all (n=1083, 93.8%) paper mill retractions had received at least one citation since publication, with a median of 11 (interquartile range 5-22) citations received.

The authors concluded that papers retracted originating from paper mills are increasing in frequency, posing a problem for the research community. Retracted paper mill papers most commonly originated from China and were published in a small number of journals. Nevertheless, detected paper mill papers might be substantially different from those that are not detected. New mechanisms are needed to identify and avoid this relatively new type of misconduct.

China encourages its researchers to publish papers in return for money and career promotions. Furthermore, medical students at Chinese universities are required to produce a scientific paper in order to graduate. Paper mills openly advertise their services on the Internet and maintain a presence on university campuses. The authors of this analysis reference another recent article (authored by two Chinese researchers) that throws more light on the problem:

This study used data from the Retraction Watch website and from published reports on retractions and paper mills to summarize key features of research misconduct in China. Compared with publicized cases of falsified or fabricated data by authors from other countries of the world, the number of Chinese academics exposed for research misconduct has increased dramatically in recent years. Chinese authors do not have to generate fake data or fake peer reviews for themselves because paper mills in China will do the work for them for a price. Major retractions of articles by authors from China were all announced by international publishers. In contrast, there are few reports of retractions announced by China’s domestic publishers. China’s publication requirements for physicians seeking promotions and its leniency toward research misconduct are two major factors promoting the boom of paper mills in China.

As the authors of the new analysis point out: “Fraudulent papers have negative consequences for the scientific community and the general public, engendering distrust in science, false claims of drug or device efficacy, and unjustified academic promotion, among other problems.” On this blog, I have often warned of research originating from China (some might even think that this is becoming an obsession of mine but I do truly think that this is very important). While such fraudulent papers may have a relatively small impact in many areas of healthcare, their influence in the realm of TCM (where the majority of research comes from China) is considerable. In other words, TCM research is infested by fraud to a degree that prevents drawing meaningful conclusions about the value of TCM treatments.

I feel strongly that it is high time for us to do something about this precarious situation. Otherwise, I fear that in the near future no respectable scientist will take TCM seriously.

Electroacupuncture (EA) is often advocated for depression and sleep disorders but its efficacy remains uncertain. The aim of this study was, therefore, to “assess the efficacy and safety of EA as an alternative therapy in improving sleep quality and mental state for patients with insomnia and depression.”

A 32-week patient- and assessor-blinded, randomized, sham-controlled clinical trial (8-week intervention plus 24-week follow-up) was conducted from September 1, 2016, to July 30, 2019, at 3 tertiary hospitals in Shanghai, China. Patients were randomized to receive

  1. EA treatment and standard care,
  2. sham acupuncture (SA) treatment and standard care,
  3. standard care only as control.

Patients in the EA or SA groups received a 30-minute treatment 3 times per week (usually every other day except Sunday) for 8 consecutive weeks. All treatments were performed by licensed acupuncturists with at least 5 years of clinical experience. A total of 6 acupuncturists (2 at each center; including X.Y. and S.Z.) performed EA and SA, and they received standardized training on the intervention method before the trial. The regular acupuncture method was applied at the Baihui (GV20), Shenting (GV24), Yintang (GV29), Anmian (EX-HN22), Shenmen (HT7), Neiguan (PC6), and SanYinjiao (SP6) acupuncture points, with 0.25 × 25-mm and 0.30 × 40-mm real needles (Wuxi Jiajian Medical Device Co, Ltd), or 0.30 × 30-mm sham needles (Streitberger sham device [Asia-med GmbH]).

For patients in the EA group, rotating or lifting-thrusting manipulation was applied for deqi sensation after needle insertion. The 2 electrodes of the electrostimulator (CMNS6-1 [Wuxi Jiajian Medical Device Co, Ltd]) were connected to the needles at GV20 and GV29, delivering a continuous wave based on the patient’s tolerance. Patients in the SA group felt a pricking sensation when the blunt needle tip touched the skin, but without needle insertion. All indicators of the nearby electrostimulator were set to 0, with the light switched on. Standard care (also known as treatment as usual or routine care) was used in the control group. Patients receiving standard care were recommended by the researchers to get regular exercise, eat a healthy diet, and manage their stress level during the trial. They were asked to keep the regular administration of antidepressants, sedatives, or hypnotics as well. Psychiatrists in the Shanghai Mental Health Center (including X.L.) guided all patients’ standard care treatment and provided professional advice when a patient’s condition changed.

The primary outcome was change in Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) from baseline to week 8. Secondary outcomes included PSQI at 12, 20, and 32 weeks of follow-up; sleep parameters recorded in actigraphy; Insomnia Severity Index; 17-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale score; and Self-rating Anxiety Scale score.

Among the 270 patients (194 women [71.9%] and 76 men [28.1%]; mean [SD] age, 50.3 [14.2] years) included in the intention-to-treat analysis, 247 (91.5%) completed all outcome measurements at week 32, and 23 (8.5%) dropped out of the trial. The mean difference in PSQI from baseline to week 8 within the EA group was -6.2 (95% CI, -6.9 to -5.6). At week 8, the difference in PSQI score was -3.6 (95% CI, -4.4 to -2.8; P < .001) between the EA and SA groups and -5.1 (95% CI, -6.0 to -4.2; P < .001) between the EA and control groups. The efficacy of EA in treating insomnia was sustained during the 24-week postintervention follow-up. Significant improvement in the 17-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (-10.7 [95% CI, -11.8 to -9.7]), Insomnia Severity Index (-7.6 [95% CI, -8.5 to -6.7]), and Self-rating Anxiety Scale (-2.9 [95% CI, -4.1 to -1.7]) scores and the total sleep time recorded in the actigraphy (29.1 [95% CI, 21.5-36.7] minutes) was observed in the EA group during the 8-week intervention period (P < .001 for all). No between-group differences were found in the frequency of sleep awakenings. No serious adverse events were reported.

The result of the blinding assessment showed that 56 patients (62.2%) in the SA group guessed wrongly about their group assignment (Bang blinding index, −0.4 [95% CI, −0.6 to −0.3]), whereas 15 (16.7%) in the EA group also guessed wrongly (Bang blinding index, 0.5 [95% CI, 0.4-0.7]). This indicated a relatively higher degree of blinding in the SA group.

The authors concluded that, in this randomized clinical trial of EA treatment for insomnia in patients with depression, quality of sleep improved significantly in the EA group compared with the SA or control group at week 8 and was sustained at week 32.

This trial seems rigorous, it has a sizable sample size, uses a credible placebo procedure, and is reported in sufficient detail. Why then am I skeptical?

  • Perhaps because we have often discussed how untrustworthy acupuncture studies from China are?
  • Perhaps because I fail to see a plausible mechanism of action?
  • Perhaps because the acupuncturists could not be blinded and thus might have influenced the outcome?
  • Perhaps because the effects of sham acupuncture seem unreasonably small?
  • Perhaps because I cannot be sure whether the acupuncture or the electrical current is supposed to have caused the effects?
  • Perhaps because the authors of the study are from institutions such as the Shanghai Municipal Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Department of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, Huadong Hospital, Fudan University, Shanghai,
  • Perhaps because the results seem too good to be true?

If you have other and better reasons, I’d be most interested to hear them.

Even though most people do not think about it in this way, tea is a herbal remedy. We know that it is pleasant, but is it also effective?

This study explored the associations between tea drinking and the incident risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus(T2 DM). A dynamic prospective cohort study among a total of 27 841 diabetes-free permanent adult residents randomly selected from 2, 6, and 7 rural communities between 2006-2008, 2011-2012, and 2013-2014, respectively. Questionnaire survey, physical examination, and laboratory test were carried out among the participants. In 2018, the researchers conducted a follow-up through the electronic health records of residents. Cox regression models were applied to explore the association between tea drinking and the incident risk of T2 DM and estimate the hazard ratio(HR), and its 95%CI.

Among the 27 841 rural community residents in Deqing County, 10 726(39%) were tea drinkers, 8215 (77%) of which were green tea drinkers. A total of 883 new T2 DM incidents were identified until December 31, 2018, and the incidence density was 4.43 per 1000 person-years (PYs). The incidence density was 4.07/1000 PYs in those with tea drinking habits and 4.71/1000 PYs in those without tea drinking habits. The incidence density was 3.79/1000 PYs in those with green tea drinking habits. After controlling for sex, age, education, farming, smoking, alcohol consumption, dietary preference, body mass index, hypertension, impaired fasting glucose, and family history of diabetes, the risk of T2 DM among rural residents with tea drinking habits was 0.79 times higher than that among residents without tea drinking habits(HR=0.79, 95%CI 0.65-0.96), and the risk of T2 DM among residents with green tea drinking habits was 0.72 times higher than that among residents without tea drinking habits(HR=0.72, 95%CI 0.58-0.89). No significant associations were found between other kinds of tea and the risk of T2 DM, nor the amount of green tea-drinking.

The authors concluded that drinking green tea may reduce the risk of T2 DM among adult population in rural China.

Epidemiological studies of this nature resemble big fishing expeditions that can bring up all sorts of rubbish and – if lucky – also some fish. The question thus is whether this study identified an interesting association or just some odd rubbish.

A quick look into Medline seems to suggest great caution. Here are the conclusions from a few further case-control studies:

Thus the question of whether tea drinking might prevent diabetes remains open, in my view.

Yet, the paper might teach us two important lessons:

  1. Case-control studies must be taken with a pinch of salt.
  2. Correlation is not the same as causation.
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