New Study Exposes Acupuncture As Pseudoscience

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Acupuncture has been practiced for thousands of years — but that doesn't mean it actually works.

A new study published online in the journal Cancer suggests that any relief acupuncture brings may be the result of a placebo effect.

Researchers followed a group of 47 women being treated with aromatase inhibitors, a breast cancer medication that can cause menopause-like side effects (hot flashes, night sweats) as well as joint and muscle pain. Twenty-three of the women received eight weeks of acupuncture; the rest received eight weeks of something called "sham acupuncture," where needles are placed on the skin somewhat randomly — not at traditional acupuncture points — and then not actually inserted.

The result? All of the patients reported that their side effects had improved, especially the severity of their hot flashes.

Written By: Lauren F Friedman
continue to source article at sfgate.com

17 COMMENTS

  1. I wonder if they had a third control group and if not I think it would have been interesting to do so: a group that was just given some other placebo, e.g., a pill. My intuition is that the more effort you have to go through to use the placebo the more likely you are to get the placebo effect. So I would hypothesize that the placebo pill would not be as effective as the placebo (or actual) acupuncture.

    • In reply to #1 by Red Dog:

      I wonder if they had a third control group and if not I think it would have been interesting to do so: a group that was just given some other placebo, e.g., a pill. My intuition is that the more effort you have to go through to use the placebo the more likely you are to get the placebo effect. So I…

      Ben Goldacre has explored the ‘placebo effect’ and the bigger the ‘interaction’ the higher the effect – 2 pills work better than one; an injection works better than pills, colour of pills has an effect – even being told you are being given a placebo doesnt entirely stop them having an effect…

      • In reply to #6 by fsm1965:

        Ben Goldacre has explored the ‘placebo effect’ and the bigger the ‘interaction’ the higher the effect – 2 pills work better than one; an injection works better than pills, colour of pills has an effect – even being told you are being given a placebo doesnt entirely stop them having an effect.>

        I’ve read of experiments that have used sham surgery! Apparently the placebo effect is very pronounced in these cases.

      • In reply to #4 by flyingfsck:

        “In reply to #3 by Christiana Magdalene Moodley:
        If acupuncture worked, porcupines would be the healthiest of us all”

        Well, I have never seen a sick porcupine…

        Neither have I! That can’t be a coincidence.

    • In reply to #3 by Christiana Magdalene Moodley:

      If acupuncture worked, porcupines would be the healthiest of us all

      …their spines point the wrong way… they are the porc-ers not the porc-ees ….just sayin’

  2. Acupuncture seems to be well positioned to deliver strong placebo effects. It has ancient provenance, lending it some uncritical legitimacy, involves a little pain investment and invasion of the body (submission), and the recipient gets touched by another human, which itself gets various juices flowing. It often does work, and the only mechanism found so far by which it works is placebo effect. I suspect that there is no other effect, but what do I know?
    I have a friend who is a plenty smart professor who swears that acupuncture relieves her substantial pain. She seems to know that it’s the manipulation of her mind that’s doing the heavy lifting, but she’s grateful for the relief and so we don’t sit around talking about it being “only” placebo.

  3. In reply to #8 by Ted Foureagles:

    Acupuncture seems to be well positioned to deliver strong placebo effects. It has ancient provenance, lending it some uncritical legitimacy, involves a little pain investment and invasion of the body (submission), and the recipient gets touched by another human, which itself gets various juices flo…

    Hang on, Ted- this is getting a little risque!

    “plenty smart professor who swears that acupuncture relieves her substantial pain” ah, the appeal to authority;

    Francis Collins’ conversion—“I turned the corner and saw in front of me this frozen waterfall, a couple of hundred feet high. Actually, a waterfall that had three parts to it — also the symbolic three in one. At that moment, I felt my resistance leave me. And it was a great sense of relief. The next morning, in the dewy grass in the shadow of the Cascades, I fell on my knees and accepted this truth — that God is God, that Christ is his son and that I am giving my life to that belief.”

  4. Whether acupuncture works or not is certainly not shown by this small under-powered study. What it shows is that acupuncture may be no better than placebo in treating the side effects of chemotherapy for breast cancer in women. How this can be generalised to the headline that it is therefore exposed as pseudo science in every use is beyond me. The headline is the real pseudo science. It would be at home in the Daily Mail!

  5. As much as I agree that emotional states affect physical states and that the placebo effect is real, I still find myself getting pissed off at the implication that any discomfort women suffer, especially menopause-like symptoms, are purely psychological and therefore totally subject to the placebo effect. Why don’t they test acupuncture on men undergoing chemotherapy? On post-surgical pain? On patients of both sexes undergoing dental procedures? Give these women with breast cancer real medical treatment for their chemo side-effects, not bullshit time-wasting woo, and I’ll bet their symptoms will improve much more than they would with just a psychological boost.

    My own gripes aside, I’m happy about any efforts that expose acupuncture, like other forms of “alternative medicine”, as bullshit. Too many people have been bilked out of their savings and had their precious time wasted for far too long with this crap.

    • In reply to #12 by Sue Blue:

      As much as I agree that emotional states affect physical states and that the placebo effect is real, I still find myself getting pissed off at the implication that any discomfort women suffer, especially menopause-like symptoms, are purely psychological and therefore totally subject to the placebo effect.

      That isn’t what it’s saying Sue. The Placebo Effect is a psychological effect, that is true, but it can have an effect on real pain.

      Just because a symptom is relieved by placebo does not mean the symptom was purely in the mind.

  6. Am I being tested here? This is just the kind of small, recent study that would leave me complaining at the headline if it purported to prove something silly. Nothing wrong with studying 47 people; it’s just not really newsworthy.

  7. The title and implications of this article are fairly dishonest – yes, this study indicates a placebo based mechanism for the studied condition, but this doesn’t mean this is the case for all conditions, particularly as a meta-analysis of nearly 18,000 sufferers of chronic pain (published in Archives of Internal Medicine) indicated a non-placebo effect within this condition group. I’d expect better from the Foundation…

  8. I believe acupuncture to be a sham on principle but unfortunately the sample group was far too small and there was not a third control group. I absolutely support proper evidence, but this is flawed research.

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