Acupuncture Works! (Not really)

February 28, 2016

Categories: Skepticism , Tags: Pseudoscience, Acupuncture

On Thursday I went to Cafe Scientifique, a regular meeting in Wellington where talks are given about a scientific topic.

At the event on Thursday (opens new window), Jane, the owner of a company called "Acupuncture Works (opens new window)", gave a talk about the evidence for acupuncture.

Unsurprisingly, the evidence seemed to be some vague references to cherry picked studies, an ACC report about how there is insufficient evidence to use acupuncture for any mental health condition, and lots and lots of anecdotes where Jane just knows that acupuncture worked. Obviously having many anecdotes is not a sufficient basis to be offering a medical treatment.

Several skeptics turned up to the talk, and asked some good questions about both the efficacy and the safety of acupuncture, given that there have been several deaths attributed to acupuncture and no solid evidence that it works for treating any condition.

Cochrane, who write a lot of medical systematic reviews, have several for acupuncture (opens new window), and their conclusions state:

  • There is not enough evidence to say whether acupuncture works to treat shoulder pain.
  • We found insufficient evidence to recommend the use of acupuncture for people with depression.
  • The current evidence is not sufficiently rigorous to support or refute acupuncture for treating insomnia.
  • We found insufficient evidence to determine whether acupuncture is effective for controlling menopausal vasomotor symptoms.
  • There is insufficient evidence to either support or refute the use of acupuncture in the treatment of lateral elbow pain.
  • There is no evidence that acupuncture improves live birth or pregnancy rates in assisted conception.