4 Dec 2017

Acupuncture misleading public, says study

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 1:29 pm on 4 December 2017

Some acupuncturists in New Zealand may be breaching section of the Medicines Act by making misleading claims on their websites, a new study has found.

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Photo: 123rf

The study, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, is calling on officials to crack down on these false claims.

Mark Honeychurch is from the Society for Science Based Healthcare, which conducted the study. His colleague Daniel Ryan wrote it. 

Honeychurch says claims made on behalf of alternative medicine was worrying.

"As far as we're concerned alternative medicine is some of the worst nonsense out there."

And those claims were being made about serious diseases.

"This study found that a lot of acupuncturists are making really bad claims, about what acupuncture is able to do, claims that are in breach of Section 58 of the Medicines Act."

Diseases for which health claims were made included cancer, arthritis, infertility and mental disorders.

"The fact that any acupuncturist is claiming to help with cancer is kind of a worry.

It seems mental disorders were a major one - treating mental disorders by sticking needles in people."

The three most frequent claims regarded the treatment or prevention of mental illness, infertility and arthritis. Combined, these claims appeared on 73 percent of the websites that were examined, he says.

He is also concerned that acupuncture's two governing bodies appear not to be taking the problem seriously.

Acupuncture NZ and NZASA are the two overseeing bodies and can suspend or remove annual practising certificates from acupuncturists.

"It was disappointing to find out several years ago that ACC does fund acupuncture and to the tune of $30 million or so. A lot of tax payer money goes into acupuncture every year and that's surprising given the lack of evidence we can see, but also the lack of evidence that ACC can see."

ACC relies on Acupuncture NZ and NZASA to self-police.

"We'd like to see those two bodies doing the job of monitoring their members and censuring their members, pulling their members up if they're breaking the law.

He says a colleague had submitted a number of complaints to Acupuncture NZ which it said was "vexatious".

"They don't seem to take these complaints seriously, we would love for them to read our laws and ensure their members are compliant with the laws of New Zealand."

There is a paucity of evidence on acupuncture, Honeychurch says.

"There's a lot of low quality research, there's so much fuzz and mud out there it's hard to cut through it to try and find the good quality research that isn't going to have a false positive result."

What good research does exist tends to say acupuncture doesn't work, or is ambivalent about it.

"The best scientific evidence suggests that acupuncture is no more than a theatrical placebo."

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