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Research from China claims the traditional Chinese treatment could reduce the memory loss that precedes dementia, but critics claim it could be a placebo effect.

It’s an ancient complementary treatment that forms part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and now researchers claim it could be beneficial for preventing memory loss in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

Researchers from China pulled together data from five studies involving 500 people and found having regular sessions of acupuncture (3-5 times a week for eight weeks) could raise mental test scores by 10%.

Acupuncture is a treatment in which very fine needles are placed into specific points all over the head and body. In Eastern medical philosophies, it’s believed to help improve the flow of Qi (pronounced “chee”), the body’s natural flow through the body’s meridians.

‘Although acupuncture has been used clinically in the management of mild cognitive impairment in recent years, no systematic review or meta-analysis has been performed to evaluate the effectiveness of acupuncture specifically for this condition,’ said lead author Dr Wang Xu-Feng of Wuhan University in China.

‘Overall, our meta-analysis suggests that acupuncture was a useful therapy in improving cognitive function.’

However, critics have been quick to point out that the results of the studies could be caused by the placebo effect. This is when a person uses any type of health treatment and sees an improvement in their symptoms, which may not be down to the actual treatment, but rather because they have the expectation that it will work.

This is because it’s impossible to give someone acupuncture treatment without them being aware of it. If a study is done using pills, the placebo group don’t know whether they’re taking the drug or not, so any results are less likely to be skewed by the placebo effect.

‘It would be extremely difficult to carry out a blinded study into acupuncture; the patient and researcher will both know whether or not the acupuncture has been carried out,’ says Dr Elizabeth Coulthard, Consultant Senior Lecturer in Dementia Neurology at the University of Bristol.

‘Any benefit for people with mild cognitive impairment could be related to stress reduction, rather than a true effect on dementia-related changes in the brain.’

Dr James Pickett, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said:

‘The lack of strong and convincing evidence makes it difficult to reach any meaningful conclusions. On this basis, acupuncture is not the answer to preventing memory problems or dementia.’

The study is published in the BMJ journal Acupuncture in Medicine.

Source: Dailymail.co.uk and Telegraph.co.uk