I read your recent article “Doctors Discover that Acupuncture Can Significantly Reduce Chronic Headaches” with great interest.
The article covers a randomized controlled study published a few weeks ago in the American Academy of Neurology Journal that included 218 participants and found that 68% of those receiving true acupuncture had a 50% reduction in monthly headache days compared to 50% of those who received superficial acupuncture.
What I found super confusing, however, was that this article was described as a “new discovery” without any reference to the considerable literature on the topic. In fact, it gives the impression that this is the first study ever performed on the subject. In reality, acupuncture is much better studied and found to be much more effective and exponentially safer than the entirety of the standard of care currently offered for tension type headache.
The most recent Cochrane Systematic Review on acupuncture for tension type headache, which is from 2016, already 6 years old, included 12 trials with over 2,000 subjects. In this meta-analysis, acupuncture was more effective than fake acupuncture as well as medication. Cochrane Systematic Reviews are considered to be the highest level of evidence that we have when assessing the evidence base for an intervention (at least this was true back in 2016, before conflicts of interest emerged on the board).
More recently in 2020, a review of systematic reviews was published, which included 8 systematic reviews in its analysis and found that acupuncture reduced tension type headache frequency and severity, that the effects were maintained months after treatment ended and that the treatment is exceptionally safe (Huang et al 2020).
Acupuncture is recommended in official international guidelines for the treatment and prevention of tension-type headache, including the UKs NICE Guidelines, which are used as the standard in dozens of international clinical guidelines globally.
So a news article presenting acupuncture’s effectiveness for tension type headache as “breaking news” and a novel discovery for “doctors”, is a bit like an article reporting on a brand new study that found that penicillin has anti-microbial activities and the publication in a Microbiology Journal has led doctors to “discover” this fact, without doing a quick search to see if there’s any prior literature.
The real news, then, becomes how inefficient the system of generating and disseminating clinical studies is when Neurological Consultants can be completely unaware that the consensus of clinical guidelines based on numerous systematic reviews and meta-analyses has identified the safest treatment for chronic tension type headaches as also one of, if not the, most effective. And also the only treatment that continues to maintain effective months after treatment has ended.
The article also raises the question of journalistic standards in the coverage of the “story.” Did you actually write an article about a newly published study without doing a single search whatsoever to see where this fit into the greater literature? I find that a little confusing.
But well done on reporting on the new acupuncture for headaches study. While this wasn’t covered in the article, these findings are completely consistent with the extensive existing literature.
Peace & love,