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Last month one of the top US medical journals, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), carried an article on the prevention of migraine. Although this was billed as being a summary of information about treatment options that are endorsed by the US government this didn't appear to be true, and moreover acupuncture was missing. Acupuncture is one of the very best treatments for preventing migraines, and is even recommended by NICE for use in the NHS, so we thought that it was worth writing a letter to the editor. In the event, they chose not to publish it but we reproduce it below, to give you an idea of the various arguments and to encourage others to take up their pens when they think there is a case to answer.

Questioning the medical establishment: a letter about migraine

BAcC member Beverley de Valois is well known as an expert and researcher in the use of acupuncture for cancer survivors.

She is a Research Acupuncturist at the Lynda Jackson Macmillan Centre, Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in London and also holds an honorary research position at the School of Social and Community Medicine, University of Bristol.

She has published a series of papers on the benefits of acupuncture for cancer survivors and is writing a book on acupuncture and cancer survivorship. Her PhD investigated using acupuncture to manage hormone treatment-related hot flushes experienced by women with early breast cancer. In her post-doctoral research, she turned her attention to lymphoedema and was awarded a grant by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR). Her clinical trial in this area entails both quantitative measurement of the treatment effects and also qualitative investigation into the thoughts, feelings and experience of the participants.

It is the qualitative paper “The monkey on your shoulder”: a qualitative study of lymphoedema patients’ attitudes to and experiences of acupuncture and moxibustion that Beverley entered into the 2017 competition for the prestigious "Scientific Article Prize" put up by the International Society of Complementary Medicine Research ( ISCMR). This competition covers papers published internationally over the last two years. Qualitative research rarely makes the headlines or wins the plaudits so we applaud her for this recognition and hope that next time she can go one better: any prize money would be ploughed back into her workplace.

The paper is an open access paper and is available at


The Australian Acupuncture and Chinese medicine Association (AACMA) commissioned this review to provide an up to date evidence based guide to the effectiveness of acupuncture using scientifically rigorous methods. Comprehensive acupuncture reviews have been published by the Australian (2010) and US (2013) Departments of Veterans’ Affairs in recent years and this current study built on those by adding data from 2013-16.

These are all, strictly speaking, over-reviews, where published systematic reviews of (largely) randomised controlled trials are collected together and summarised. The results thus reflect the highest level evidence available.

122 different health conditions are represented and the evidence in each of these has been assigned to one of four categories:

Evidence levelNumber of conditions
Positive effect 8
Potential positive effect 38
Unclear/insufficient 71
No evidence of effect 5

The American College of Physicians recently published a guideline entitled Noninvasive Treatments for Acute, Subacute, and Chronic Low Back Pain: A Clinical Practice Guideline From the American College of Physicians

How very confusing these guidelines are. No sooner does NICE change its mind and give acupuncture the thumbs down for low back pain than up pops the American College of Physicians (the largest medical speciality organisation in the USA) to endorse it. Their conclusions are in line with those of two US government agencies that reviewed the evidence in 2016 and found acupuncture to be an effective treatment for chronic back pain (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Feb 2016; Nahin et al, Sept 2016). How can different guidelines, using much the same data, come up with such different answers? Well, guideline recommendations reflect not only the state of the evidence but also how this evidence is interpreted by the people producing them, and this is subject to all kinds of personal and institutional influences. Hence single guidelines cannot really be trusted: as with builders’ quotes you’d be wise to look at several different ones and get a consensus.

Last week’s popular news story has important implications for guidelines on back pain and puts NICE’s decision on acupuncture into an even worse light. Here is some information you could use to help you to understand, inform, debate, complain or whatever else moves you.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017 23:24

Acupuncture reduces crying in colicky babies

A Swedish university study published yesterday concluded that acupuncture may be an effective treatment option for babies that continue to cry when conventional approaches have been unsuccessful.

They recruited healthy infants, aged 2-8 weeks, who were still crying more than 3 hours a day, at least 3 days a week, after having cow’s milk protein excluded from their/their mothers’ diet. In this randomised trial 98 babies had 4 sessions of acupuncture over 2 weeks and 49 had no acupuncture. All of them received gold standard conventional treatment in specialist child health centres. The acupuncture was minimal (very few needles, very shallow insertion, retained for a very short time period), according to usual practice among acupuncturists who specialise in treating infants. Effectiveness was measured in crying time, as recorded in diaries by the parents. Note that parents (and nurses) were both blinded, i.e. they didn’t know whether their baby was getting acupuncture or not, to avoid biasing the results.

In October 2013 I went to a stakeholders workshop to hear about, and discuss, NICE’s plan for an updated guideline on low back pain. The 2009 recommendation of acupuncture has become a key part of BAcC marketing and may have knock-on effects for all of us through increased acceptability in orthodox medical circles. However, the acupuncture recommendation has never gained much of a foothold when it comes to funding primary care services, leaving NICE with egg on its face. This was one of the stated reasons for the guideline update. One solution would be to persuade the NHS to comply with the recommendation; the easier and cheaper option would be simply to uncouple acupuncture.

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