NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 24, 2005

Acupuncture is widely used to prevent migraine attacks, but a sham version of acupuncture works just as well for treating migraines, says the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The study divided 302 migraine suffers into three randomly selected groups:

  • The first group received acupuncture treatments similar to those used in China.
  • The second group was told that they would receive acupuncture that has been associated with positive outcomes, but was not like the Chinese version.
  • The third group was put on a waiting list and received treatment later.

Actually, the second group received a fake version of acupuncture.

After 12 weeks, the results showed that after the end of treatment, the patients had 50 fewer days with headaches, says JAMA:

  • The real acupuncture succeeded with 51 percent.
  • The sham acupuncture succeeded with 53 percent.

The difference is statistically insignificant. The result "may be due to nonspecific physiological effects of needling, to a powerful placebo effect, or to a combination of both," says JAMA. The effectiveness of both the sham and the real acupuncture is about the same as treatment with drugs and has fewer side effects.

Source: Bakalar, Nicholas, "Remedy Is Fake but Relief Is Real," New York Times, May 17, 2005; based upon: "Acupuncture for Patients With Migraine," Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 293 No. 17, May 4, 2005.

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