MEXICO CITY.- Alternative medicine has always been surrounded by controversy and has been heavily criticized by conventional doctors.
One of the most used practices in this type of medicine is acupuncturewhich is based on the insertion of fine needles into the skin to cure diseases.
Although acupuncture is part of traditional medicine, the reality is that it is a medical process that is not yet approved within the scientific medicine.
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The acupuncture problem
According to a group of Spanish researchers, the studies on this therapeutic alternative present inconsistencies, which has led to another major problem, since they are works that are often cited, despite the fact that most of them are acupuncture studies that have not yet been concluded.
Acupuncture is a practice to relieve pain, manage stress, and “balance the flow of energy.”
The Information and Scientific News Service (SINC) points out that in recent years the protocols that are the initial process to later carry out the studies, in this case on acupuncture, have increased. The increase has been such that only 4% of the works were concluded later.
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On the other hand, the page indicates that when the protocols of this type of medicine were cited in various articles, 38% of the time it was not done correctly, so they were interpreted as completed studies.
A protocol consists of detailing what will be done with an experiment, whether scientific or clinical, that is, it exposes how the study will be done and why.
The danger of taking these works into account, the authors explain, is due to the fact that they are only the beginning of the project, so there is no information that is medically or scientifically true.
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“After reviewing published protocols on acupuncture, we have found that in many cases they are completely misquoted, sometimes with results, as if they were fully completed meta-analyses.
Bearing in mind that the latter are top studies in the generation of scientific evidence, the damage done is enormous, because the feeling is generated that there is high-level evidence from something about which there is nothing,” said José María Morán, professor of Research Methodology at the University of Extremadura and first author of the study.
Azucena Santillán, a nurse at the Burgos Hospital (Spanish city) and coordinator of the study, said that what is happening today with acupuncture is striking, since the population feels more attracted and convinced of the benefits of medicine every month. alternative.
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How did you realize that the studies on acupuncture were not well founded?
To realize that the protocols were used as a verifiable scientific basis, the team of Spanish specialists searched all the published protocols on systematic reviews and meta-analyses, that is, the two most important types of study to interpret the results in the area of acupuncture.
The first was published in 2010, and the rate of appearance was slow until 2014, when growth skyrocketed. Although they are usually published in specific databases, there are also journals that accept them. The one that brings together the majority is “Medicine”, and it included one in 2010, three in 2014 and more than 80 in 2019. Those numbers “clearly exceed the publication capacity of the associated reviews,” Santillán explained.
According to SINC, only 4% of the protocols completed the study until the systematic review or meta-analysis.
The Spaniards sent an email to the 124 authors of the unfinished protocols, of which only one replied that the “trial” was still in process.
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What about quotes and acupuncture?
The quality of a publication is measured according to the number of times it was cited in other scientific articles, “the citations serve as contextualization, discussion or reinforcement of hypotheses or results, and a protocol should not be something that in principle would be very referable ” is explained in the portal.
Acupuncture protocols were cited at least once, of which 38% of them were incorrect, this triggered confusion of reference taking between a simple protocol and a review already concluded.
“Although protocols are still empty eggs, they usually include a small review of previous studies. Errors in the citations confuse the protocol with a strong evidence test, as if that brief comment were a new and powerful analysis. From there , there is a danger that they will serve to make recommendations to patients,” warned researcher Santillán.
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The doctor added that in medical publications it also happens, since 20% of the references in other articles have flaws, however, in acupuncture it is “the first time that the improper use of protocols is analyzed.”
The authors highlight an example in which a protocol was cited, as a proven work, whose results were favorable for acupuncture in osteoarthritis of the knee, a condition associated with the wear of the knee cartilage.
“Overwhelmingly, protocols are used to reaffirm or justify ideas favorable to the use of acupuncture in different health settings. In fact, 86% of protocol citations are in China, where there is a clear positive bias regarding the value of these therapies: more than 99% of the works published there show benefits”.
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SINC points out that to date, the UK clinical guidelines (NICE) that are prestigious for their health recommendations recognize that these practices are only beneficial for three specific cases, migraines, chronic pain and tension headache or headache associated with stress and in none of these cases is it proven that acupuncture acts through the energy channels as traditional Chinese medicine advocates.
“Cochrane reviews of acupuncture have shown no clear effect beyond placebo for the vast majority of outcomes studied,” the author noted.