MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Chinese studies

1 2 3 7

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.

Previous studies of acupuncture for CP/CPPS have been unconvincing. Our own systematic review of 2012 included 9 RCTs and all suggested that acupuncture is as effective as a range of control interventions. Their methodologic quality was variable; most were associated with major flaws. Only one RCT had a Jadad score of more than 3. We concluded that the evidence that acupuncture is effective for chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome is encouraging but, because of several caveats, not conclusive. Therefore, more rigorous studies seem warranted.
This new study looks definitely more rigorous than the previous ones. But is it convincing? To answer this question, we need to consider a few points.

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.

Chinese researchers evaluated the effect of Chinese medicine (CM) on survival time and quality of life (QoL) in patients with small-cell lung cancer (SCLC). They conducted an exploratory and prospective clinical observation. Patients diagnosed with SCLC receiving CM treatment as an add-on to conventional cancer therapies were included and followed up every 3 months. The primary outcome was overall survival (OS), and the secondary outcomes were progression-free survival (PFS) and QoL.

A total of 136 patients including 65 limited-stage SCLC (LS-SCLC) patients and 71 extensive-stage SCLC (ES-SCLC) patients were analyzed. The median OS of ES-SCLC patients was 17.27 months, and the median OS of LS-SCLC was 40.07 months. The survival time was 16.27 months for SCLC patients with brain metastasis, 9.83 months for liver metastasis, 13.43 months for bone metastasis, and 18.13 months for lung metastasis. Advanced age, pleural fluid, liver, and brain metastasis were risk factors, while longer CM treatment duration was a protective factor. QoL assessment indicated that after 6 months of CM treatment, scores increased in function domains and decreased in symptom domains.

The authors concluded that CM treatment might help prolong OS of SCLC patients. Moreover, CM treatment brought the trend of symptom amelioration and QoL improvement. These results provide preliminary evidence for applying CM in SCLC multi-disciplinary treatment.

Sorry, but these results provide NO evidence for applying CM in SCLC multi-disciplinary treatment! Even if the findings were a bit better than those reported for SCLC in the literature – and I am not sure they are – it is simply not possible to say with any degree of certainty what effect the CM had. For that, we would obviously need a proper control group.

The study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 81673797), and Beijing Municipal Natural Science Foundation (No. 7182142). In my view, this paper is an example for showing how the relentless promotion of dubious Traditional Chinese Medicine by Chinese officials might cost lives.

I feel that it is time to do something about it.

But what precisely?

Any ideas anyone?

 

Acupuncture is a veritable panacea; it cures everything! At least this is what many of its advocates want us to believe. Does it also have a role in supportive cancer care?

Let’s find out.

This systematic review evaluated the effects of acupuncture in women with breast cancer (BC), focusing on patient-reported outcomes (PROs).

A comprehensive literature search was carried out for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) reporting PROs in BC patients with treatment-related symptoms after undergoing acupuncture for at least four weeks. Literature screening, data extraction, and risk bias assessment were independently carried out by two researchers. The authors stated that they followed the ‘Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses’ (PRISMA) guidelines.

Out of the 2, 524 identified studies, 29 studies representing 33 articles were included in this meta-analysis. The RCTs employed various acupuncture techniques with a needle, such as hand-acupuncture and electroacupuncture. Sham/placebo acupuncture, pharmacotherapy, no intervention, or usual care were the control interventions. About half of the studies lacked adequate blinding.

At the end of treatment (EOT), the acupuncture patients’ quality of life (QoL) was measured by the QLQ-C30 QoL subscale, the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-Endocrine Symptoms (FACT-ES), the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy–General/Breast (FACT-G/B), and the Menopause-Specific Quality of Life Questionnaire (MENQOL), which depicted a significant improvement. The use of acupuncture in BC patients lead to a considerable reduction in the scores of all subscales of the Brief Pain Inventory-Short Form (BPI-SF) and Visual Analog Scale (VAS) measuring pain. Moreover, patients treated with acupuncture were more likely to experience improvements in hot flashes scores, fatigue, sleep disturbance, and anxiety compared to those in the control group, while the improvements in depression were comparable across both groups. Long-term follow-up results were similar to the EOT results. Eleven RCTs did not report any information on adverse effects.

The authors concluded that current evidence suggests that acupuncture might improve BC treatment-related symptoms measured with PROs including QoL, pain, fatigue, hot flashes, sleep disturbance and anxiety. However, a number of included studies report limited amounts of certain subgroup settings, thus more rigorous, well-designed and larger RCTs are needed to confirm our results.

This review looks rigorous on the surface but has many weaknesses if one digs only a little deeper. To start with, it has no precise research question: is any type of acupuncture better than any type of control? This is not a research question that anyone can answer with just a few studies of mostly poor quality. The authors claim to follow the PRISMA guidelines, yet (as a co-author of these guidelines) I can assure you that this is not true. Many of the included studies are small and lacked blinding. The results are confusing, contradictory and not clearly reported. Many trials fail to mention adverse effects and thus violate research ethics, etc., etc.

The conclusion that acupuncture might improve BC treatment-related symptoms could be true. But does this paper convince me that acupuncture DOES improve these symptoms?

No!

Qigong can be described as a mind-body-spirit practice that improves one’s mental and physical health by integrating posture, movement, breathing technique, self-massage, sound, and focused intent. But does it really improve health?

The purpose of this review was to evaluate the effectiveness of Qigong in improving the quality of life and relieving fatigue, sleep disturbance, and cancer-related emotional disturbances (distress, depression, and anxiety) in women with breast cancer.

The PubMed, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Web of Science, Sinomed, Wanfang, VIP, and China National Knowledge Infrastructure databases were searched from their inceptions to March 2020 for controlled clinical trials. Two reviewers selected relevant trials that assessed the benefit of Qigong for breast cancer patients independently. A methodological quality assessment was conducted according to the criteria of the 12 Cochrane Back Review Group for risk of bias independently. A meta-analysis was performed using Review Manager 5.3.

A total of 17 trials were found in which 1236 cases were enrolled. The quality of the included trials was generally low, as only 5 of them were rated high quality. 14 studies were conducted in China. The types of qigong included Baduanjin Qigong (9 trials), Chan-Chuang Qigong (1 trial), Goulin New Qigong (2 Trials), Tai Chi Qigong (2 Trials), and Kuala Lumpur Qigong (1 trial). The course of qigong ranged from 21 days to more than 6 months. Four trials compared qigong to no treatment, one sham Qigong, seven compared to other types of exercise, and 6 to usual care.

The results showed significant positive effects of Qigong on quality of life (n = 950, standardized mean difference (SMD), 0.65, 95 % confidence interval (CI) 0.23–1.08, P =  0.002). Depression (n = 540, SMD = −0.32, 95 % CI −0.59 to −0.04, P =  0.02) and anxiety (n = 439, SMD = −0.71, 95 % CI −1.32 to −0.10, P =  0.02) were also significantly relieved in the Qigong group. There was no significant benefit on fatigue (n = 401, SMD = −0.32, 95 % CI  0.71 to 0.07, P = 0.11) or sleep disturbance relief compared to that observed in the control group (n = 298, SMD = −0.11, 95 % CI  0.74 to 0.52, P = 0.73).

The authors concluded that this review shows that Qigong is beneficial for improving quality of life and relieving depression and anxiety; thus, Qigong should be encouraged in women with breast cancer.

No, this review does not show that Qigong is beneficial for improving quality of life and relieving depression and anxiety!

Why?

  1. Most primary studies were of very poor quality.
  2. Most were from China, and we know (and have often discussed) that such trials are most unreliable.
  3. No trial even attempted to control for placebo effects.

A better conclusion would therefore be something like this:

Even though most trials conclude positively, the value of Qigong can, for a range of reasons, not be determined on the basis of the evidence available to date.

Thread embedding acupuncture therapy (TEAT) involves the insertion of thread at specific points on the body surface. The claim is that TEAT provides a sustained stimulation of acupoints and is therefore superior to needle acupuncture. Initially, TEAT was used in China to treat obesity, today it is employed to treat many conditions, including musculoskeletal conditions such as ankle sprain, shoulder pain, lumbar intervertebral disc herniation, and plantar fasciitis. Its effectiveness is, however, doubtful and so is its safety.

This review evaluated the safety of thread embedding acupuncture therapy (TEAT) and discuss the prevention and treatment of some adverse events (AEs).

Databases, including China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI), CBMdisc, Wanfang, VIP databases and PubMed, MEDLINE, EMBASE, and Web of Science, were searched from their inception to January 2020. Included were randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and case reports in which AEs with TEAT were reported. Cochrane Collaboration’s tool and RevMan V.5.3.3 software were used to evaluate the quality of the studies.

A total of 61 articles (45 RCTs and 16 case reports) with a total of 620 cases of AEs were included in this review. These studies were published in two countries: China and South Korea. Twenty-eight kinds of AEs were noted. The most common AEs were induration, bleeding and ecchymosis, redness and swelling, fever, and pain. They accounted for 75.35% of all AEs.  Most AEs were mild.; The rarest AEs were epilepsy, irregular menstruation, skin ulcer, thread malabsorption, and fat liquefaction, with 1 case each. Not all of them had a clear causal relationship with TEAT. Most of the AEs were local reactions and systemic reactions accounted for only 1.27%. Although the included studies showed that AEs were very commonly encountered (11.09%), only 5 cases of severe AEs reported from 2013 to 2017 (0.1%) by using catgut thread, which is rarely employed nowadays with new absorbable surgical suture being more popular. All of the patients with severe AEs were recovered after symptomatic treatment with no sequelae.

The authors concluded that the evidence showed that TEAT is a relatively safe and convenient therapy especially since application of new absorbable surgical suture. Improving practitioner skills, regulating operations, and paying attention to the patients’ conditions may reduce the incidence of AEs and improve safety of TEAT.

TEAT was initially used in China only but recently it has become popular elsewhere as well. Therefore the question about its risks has become relevant. The present paper is interesting in that it demonstrates that AEs do occur with some regularity. The authors’ conclusion that TEAT is “relatively safe” is, however, not justified because:

  1. the total sample size was not large enough for a generalizable conclusion;
  2. only RCTs and case reports were included, whereas case series and case-control studies (which would provide more relevant data) were excluded or might not even exist;
  3. RCTs of acupuncture often fail to mention or under-report AEs;
  4. acupuncture papers from China are notoriously unreliable.

So, all we can conclude from the evidence presented here is that AEs after TEAT do occur and do not seem to be all that rare. As the efficacy of TEAT has not been shown beyond doubt, this must inevitably lead to the conclusion that the risk-benefit balance of TEAT is not positive. In turn, that means that TEAT cannot be recommended as a treatment for any condition.

 

The Chinese have made several attempts to persuade us that their traditional remedies are effective for COVID-19 infections. Here is yet another one. This review summarised the evidence of the therapeutic effects and safety of Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) used with or without conventional western therapy for COVID-19. All clinical studies of the therapeutic effects and safety of CHM for COVID-19 were included. The authors

  • summarized the general characteristics of included studies,
  • evaluated the methodological quality of the randomized controlled trials (RCTs) using the Cochrane risk of bias tool,
  • analyzed the use of CHM,
  • used Revman 5.4 software to present the risk ratio (RR) or mean difference (MD) and their 95% confidence interval (CI) to estimate the therapeutic effects and safety of CHM.

A total of 58 clinical studies were identified including;

  • 10 RCTs,
  • 1 non-randomized controlled trials,
  • 11 retrospective studies with a control group,
  • 12 case-series,
  • 24 case-reports.

All of the studies had been performed in China. No RCTs of high methodological quality were identified. The most frequently tested oral Chinese patent medicine, Chinese herbal medicine injection, or prescribed herbal decoction were:

  • Lianhua Qingwen granule/capsule,
  • Xuebijing injection,
  • Maxing Shigan Tang.

The pooled analyses showed that there were statistical differences between the intervention group and the comparator group (RR 0.42, 95% CI 0.21 to 0.82, six RCTs; RR 0.38, 95% CI 0.23 to 0.64, five retrospective studies with a control group), indicating that CHM plus conventional western therapy appeared to be better than conventional western therapy alone in reducing aggravation rate.

In addition, compared with conventional western therapy, CHM plus conventional western therapy had the potential advantages in increasing the recovery rate and shortening the duration of fever, cough, and fatigue, improving the negative conversion rate of nucleic acid test, and increasing the improvement rate of chest CT manifestations and shortening the time from receiving the treatment to the beginning of chest CT manifestations improvement.

For adverse events, the pooled data showed that there were no statistical differences between the CHM and the control groups.

The authors concluded that current low certainty evidence suggests that there maybe a tendency that CHM plus conventional western therapy is superior to conventional western therapy alone. The use of CHM did not increase the risk of adverse events.

One of the principles to remember here is this: RUBBISH IN, RUBBISH OUT. If you meta-analyze primary data that are rubbish, your findings can only be rubbish as well.

All one needs to know about the primary data entered into the present analysis is that there were no rigorous RCTs… not one! That means the evidence is, as the authors rightly but modestly conclude of LOW CERTAINTY. My conclusions would have been a little different:

  1. In terms of safety, the dataset is too small and unreliable to make any judgment.
  2. In terms of efficacy, there is no sound data that CHM has a positive effect.

There are skeptics who keep claiming that there is no research in so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). And there are plenty of SCAM enthusiasts who claim that there is an abundance of good research in SCAM.

Who is right and who is wrong?

I submit that both camps are incorrect.

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:

  • acupuncture 2 752
  • anthroposophic medicine 29
  • aromatherapy 173
  • Ayurvedic medicine 183
  • chiropractic 426
  • dietary supplement 5 739
  • essential oil 2 439
  • herbal medicine 5 081
  • homeopathy 154
  • iridology 0
  • Kampo medicine 132
  • massage 824
  • meditation 780
  • mind-body therapies 968
  • music therapy 539
  • naturopathy 68
  • osteopathic manipulation 71
  • Pilates 97
  • qigong 97
  • reiki 133
  • tai chi 397
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine 15 277
  • yoga 698

I think the list proves anyone wrong who claims there is no (or very little) research into SCAM.

As to the enthusiasts who claim that there is plenty of good evidence, I am afraid, I disagree with them too. The above-quoted numbers are perhaps impressive to some SCAM proponents, but they are not large. To make my point more clearly, let me show you the 2020 volumes for a few topics in conventional medicine:

  • psychiatry 668,492
  • biologicals 300,679
  • chemotherapy 109,869
  • radiotherapy 17,964
  • rehabilitation 21,751
  • rehabilitation medicine 21,751
  • surgery 256,958

I think we can agree that these figures make the SCAM numbers look pitifully small.

But the more important point is, I think, not the quantity but the quality of the SCAM research. As this whole blog is about the often dismal rigor of SCAM research, I do surely not need to produce further evidence to convince you that it is poor, often even very poor.

So, both camps tend to be incorrect when they speak about SCAM research. The truth is that there is quite a lot, but sadly reliable studies are like gold dust.

But actually, when I started writing this post and doing all these Medline searches to produce the above-listed volumes of SCAM research, I was thinking of a different subject entirely. I wanted to see which areas of SCAM were research-active and which are not. This is why I chose terms for my list that do not overlap with others (yet we need to realize that the figures are not precise due to misclassification and other factors). And in this respect, the list is interesting too, I find.

It identifies the SCAMs that are remarkably research-inactive:

  • anthroposophic medicine
  • iridology
  • naturopathy
  • osteopathy
  • Pilates
  • qigong

Perhaps more interesting are the areas that show a relatively high research activity:

  • acupuncture
  • dietary supplements
  • essential oils
  • herbal medicine
  • massage
  • meditation
  • mind-body therapies
  • TCM
  • yoga

This, in turn, suggests two things:

  1. It is not true that only commercial interests drive research activity.
  2. The Chinese (TCM and acupuncture) are pushing the ferociously hard to conquer SCAM research.

The last point is worrying, in my view, because we know from several independent studies that Chinese studies are often the flimsiest and least reliable of all the SCAM literature. As I have suggested recently, the unreliability of SCAM research might one day be its undoing: This self-destructive course of SCAM might be applauded by some skeptics. However, if you believe (as I do) that there are a few good things to be found in SCAM, this development can only be regrettable. I fear that the growing dominance of Chinese research will help to speed up this process.

Tuina is a massage therapy that originates from Traditional Chinese Medicine. Many of the techniques used in tuina resemble those of a western massage like gliding, kneading, vibration, tapping, friction, pulling, rolling, pressing, and shaking. Tuina involves a range of manipulations usually performed by the therapist’s finger, hand, elbow, knee, or foot. They are applied to muscle or soft tissue at specific locations of the body.

The aim of Tuina is to enhance the flow of the ‘vital energy’ or ‘chi’, that is alleged to control our health. Proponents of the therapy recommend Tuina for a range of conditions, including paediatric ones. Paediatric Tuina has been widely used in children with acute diarrhea in China. However, due to a lack of high-quality clinical evidence, the benefit of Tuina is not clear.

This study aimed to assess the effect of paediatric Tuina compared with sham Tuina as add-on therapy in addition to usual care for 0-6-year-old children with acute diarrhea.

Eighty-six participants aged 0-6 years with acute diarrhea were randomized to receive Tuina plus usual care (n = 43) or sham Tuina plus usual care (n = 43). The primary outcomes were days of diarrhea from baseline and times of diarrhea on day 3. Secondary outcomes included a global change rating (GCR) and the number of days when the stool characteristics returned to normal. Adverse events were assessed.

Tuina treatment in the intervention group was performed on the surface of the children’s body using moderate pressure (Fig. 1a). Tuina treatment in the control group was different: the therapist used one hand to hold the child’s hand or put one hand on the child’s body, while the other hand performed manipulations on the therapist’s own hand instead of the child’s hand or body (Fig. ​(Fig.11b).

Tuina was associated with a reduction in times of diarrhea on day 3 compared with sham Tuina in both ITT and per-protocol analyses. However, the results were not significant when adjusted for social-demographic and clinical characteristics. No significant difference was found between groups in days of diarrhea, global change rating, or number of days when the stool characteristics returned to normal.

The authors concluded that in children aged 0-6 years with acute diarrhea, pediatric Tuina showed significant effects in terms of reducing times of diarrhea compared with sham Tuina. Studies with larger sample sizes and adjusted trial designs are warranted to further evaluate the effect of pediatric Tuina therapy.

This study was well-reported and has interesting features, such as the attempt to use a placebo control and blinding (whether blinding was successful is a different matter and was not tested in the trial). It is, therefore, all the more surprising that the essentially negative result is turned into a positive one. After adjustment, the differences disappear (a fact which the authors hardly mention in the paper), which means they are not due to the treatment but to group differences and confounding. This, in turn, means that the study shows not the effectiveness but the ineffectiveness of Tuina.

The state of acupuncture research has long puzzled me. The first thing that would strike who looks at it is its phenomenal increase:

  • Until around the year 2000, Medline listed about 200 papers per year on the subject.
  • From 2005, there was a steep, near-linear increase.
  • It peaked in 2020 when we had a record-breaking 20515 acupuncture papers currently listed in Medline.

Which this amount of research, one would expect to get somewhere. In particular, one would hope to slowly know whether acupuncture works and, if so, for which conditions. But this is not the case.

On the contrary, the acupuncture literature is a complete mess in which it gets more and more difficult to differentiate the reliable from the unreliable, the useful from the redundant, and the truth from the lies. Because of this profound confusion, acupuncture fans are able to claim that their pet-therapy is demonstrably effective for a wide range of conditions, while skeptics insist it is a theatrical placebo. The consumer might listen in bewilderment.

Yesterday (18/1/2021), I had a quick (actually, it was not that quick after all) look into what Medline currently lists in terms of new acupuncture research published in 2021 and found a few other things that are remarkable:

  1. There were already 100 papers dated 2021 (today, there were even 118); that corresponds to about 5 new articles per day and makes acupuncture one of the most research-active areas of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM).
  2. Of these 100 papers, only 7 were clinical trials (CTs). In my view, clinical trials would be more important than any other type of research on acupuncture. To see that they amount to just 7% of the total is therefore disappointing.
  3. Twelve papers were systematic reviews (SRs). It is odd, I find, to see almost twice the amount of SRs than CTs.
  4. Eighteen papers referred to protocols of studies of SRs. In particular protocols of SRs are useless in my view. It seems to me that the explanation for this plethora of published protocols might be the fact that Chinese researchers are extremely keen to get papers into Western journals; it is an essential boost to their careers.
  5. Seven papers were surveys. This multitude of survey research is typical for all types of SCAM.
  6. Twenty-four articles were on basic research. I find basic research into an ancient therapy of questionable clinical use more than a bit strange.
  7. The rest of the articles were other types of publications and a few were misclassified.
  8. The vast majority (n = 81) of the 100 papers were authored exclusively by Chinese researchers (and a few Korean). In view of the fact that it has been shown repeatedly that practically all acupuncture studies from China report positive results and that data fabrication seems rife in China, this dominance of China could be concerning indeed.

Yes, I find all this quite concerning. I feel that we are swamped with plenty of pseudo-research on acupuncture that is of doubtful (in many cases very doubtful) reliability. Eventually, this will create an overall picture for the public that is misleading to the extreme (to check the validity of the original research is a monster task and way beyond what even an interested layperson can do).

And what might be the solution? I am not sure I have one. But for starters, I think, that journal editors should get a lot more discerning when it comes to article submissions from (Chinese) acupuncture researchers. My advice to them and everyone else:

if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

Bloodletting has been used for centuries in many cultures. Its principle, it was assumed, consisted in re-balancing the body’s four humours. Bloodletting had a detrimental effect on most diseases and must have killed millions. It is a good historical example of the harm that ensues, if healthcare adheres to dogma. Today, we know that bloodletting is useful only in rare conditions such as polycythaemia vera or haemochromatosis (and some 30 years ago, a variation of bloodletting, isovolaemic haemodilution, was being discussed as a treatment for circulatory diseases such as intermittent claudication or stroke).

Yet, in so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), there are some practitioners who seem to find it hard to concede that ancient treatments might be not as good as they think. Thus, bloodletting has survived in this realm as a therapy for a wide range of conditions. This study assessed the efficacy of bloodletting therapy (acupoint pricking and cupping) in patients with chronic idiopathic urticaria (CIU) in a randomized, control, parallel-group trial.

A total of 174 patients with CIU were randomized into three groups:

  1. group A was treated with bloodletting therapy and ebastine (an anti-histamine),
  2. group B was treated with placebo treatment (acupoint pseudopricking and cupping) and ebastine,
  3. group C was treated with ebastine only.

The treatment period lasted 4 weeks. An intention-to-treat analysis was conducted, and the primary outcome was the effective rate of UAS7 score being reduced to 7 or below after treatment phase.

The effective rates at the end of treatment phase were different among the three groups, which were

  • 73.7% in group A,
  • 45.6% in group B,
  • and 42.9% in group C.

Multiple analysis indicated differences between groups A and B (P < 0.0125) and groups A and C (P < 0.0125) and no difference between groups B and C (P > 0.0125). No severe bloodletting therapy-related adverse events were observed.

The authors concluded that one month of bloodletting therapy combined with ebastine is clinically beneficial compared with placebo treatment combined with ebastine and treatment with ebastine only. Thus, bloodletting therapy can be an effective complementary treatment in CIU.

Amazed?

Me too!

How on earth might bloodletting help for CIU? Luckily, the authors have an answer to this question:

The clinical feature of urticaria with wheals and pruritus coming and going quickly is the manifestation of wind-evil that lurks in and circulates with blood. Hence, in the treatment of urticaria, dispersing wind is the one of the principle methods, and treating blood before wind is an important procedure because when blood flows fluently , wind-evil will resolve spontaneously. Bloodletting therapy is a direct and effective way of regulating blood.

You see, it’s all perfectly clear!

In this case, the results must be true. And the argument that patients might have known in which treatment group they had ended up (and were thus not blinded) can be discarded.

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