Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Acupuncture and heartburn-are we really doing this again?

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on June 10, 2009

I feel like every other week, there is another acupuncture study. I don’t see this happening with say chiropractic or homeopathy. For some reason researchers have singled out acupuncture as the most likely of the sCAM modalities to have an effect, and they are desperately, judging from the design of their studies, doing everything they can to find it. MUST FIND EFFECT!

But all these studies are similarly flawed, and the latest Brazilian Study which according to the news item headline shows that “Acupuncture May Relieve Heartburn In Pregnancy“, is no exception to this rule. You can read the details of the article yourself but I want to point one major issue with this study. There was no placebo control, no control group!

Now the control group is meant to control for other variables one of which has to be placebo. What these researchers did is the following:

For the study, the researchers randomly assigned 42 pregnant women with indigestion to dietary counseling plus antacids or to dietary counseling and antacids plus acupuncture once or twice a week. The researchers assessed the women’s symptoms at the beginning of the study and every two weeks after that for eight weeks.

Not surprisingly they found that the group that got the antacids PLUS acupuncture, did better than the group that got the antacids only. So they conclude that this suggests that “acupuncture can relieve symptoms of indigestion“. No it doesn’t! What this suggests is that the researchers either don’t know how to properly set up a study or they are intentionally setting it up to get a result in favor of acupuncture.

This study does not show  if the effect is due to placebo or not. It cannot distinguish because it did not have a fake acupuncture group. We are not just beginning to study acupuncture and these observations have been done hundreds if not thousands of times. Any respected researcher ought to be aware of these issue and incorporate them in their study design. The fact that they continue to use flawed protocols implies either incompetence on their part or an intention to skew the results.

And I am not the only one picking up on this.

Dr. Richard Frieder, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and clinical instructor of obstetrics and gynecology at the David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, doesn’t think that acupuncture works any better than conventional treatment.

“This is an interesting idea but far from proves any benefit, as the control group did not have any type of placebo treatment, such as fake acupuncture to make the control and test group comparable,” Frieder said.

Elemantary Watson! Apparently not elementary enough for acupuncturists though.

“It is a well-done study and it is expected that there would be positive results,” said Dr. Marshall H. Sager, past president of the American Society of Medical Acupuncture and an acupuncturist in Bala Cynwyd, Pa.

No it is not a well-done study Sherlock! It is a very poorly-done study by any scientific standard available. But I forget, acupuncture does not play by the rules of reality or science. It’s holistic!

Either way the study does not show that acupuncture either can or may help with heartburn. The title could have very well been “Acupuncture may not relieve heartburn in pregnancy” and that would have been more in tune with the results and the way the study was run.

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