May 9, 2006

GI response to acupuncture may be placebo effect

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - As a treatment for irritable
bowel syndrome, acupuncture is associated with improvements in
quality of life. However, the improvement reported by patients
who underwent a fake or "sham" procedure suggest that a placebo
effect is largely responsible for the benefits, new research

The findings, which appear in the medical journal Gut,
support previous reports, which have failed to establish
acupuncture as an effective treatment for irritable bowel

"Based on the small differences found between acupuncture
and sham acupuncture, a study using individual traditional
Chinese medicine patterns with 566 patients would be necessary
to prove efficacy," Dr. Antonius Schneider, from the University
of Heidelberg in Germany, and colleagues state. "The question
is whether such a difference would be clinically relevant."

The present study, while the largest clinical trial to
evaluate acupuncture for irritable bowel syndrome, had just 43
patients. Acupuncture was applied using standard methods,
whereas sham acupuncture was performed with a special needle
that simulates puncture, but does not actually penetrate the

Real and sham acupuncture lead to significant and
comparable improvements in quality of life, the authors note.
The benefit from both declined after a few months.

A comparison of responders and nonresponders in each group
further supported a placebo effect as the primary cause of
symptom improvement, the report indicates. Coping and other
psychological variables may determine whether a particular
irritable bowel syndrome patient will have placebo response,
the authors note.

In future studies, it might be possible to predict
individuals with placebo responsiveness, they add.

SOURCE: Gut, May 2006.