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The Society for Acupuncture Research is dedicated to improving the quality and increasing the awareness of research in acupuncture, herbal therapy and other modalities of Oriental Medicine. If you share our values and want to be an active part of SAR’s mission, we invite you to become a member and join the global dialogue that ultimately impacts the clinical scope and practice of acupuncture and Oriental medicine.  Monthly payment options are now available for individual professional members.

Research Highlight

JAMA Intern Med.
2013 Nov 25;173(21):1941-51. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.10391.

Differential effectiveness of placebo treatments: a systematic review of migraine prophylaxis. 

Meissner K, Fässler M, Rücker G, Kleijnen J, Hróbjartsson A, Schneider A, Antes G, Linde K.


In an advance for placebo research, a recent systemic meta-analysis has found differences in the nonspecific treatment effect of placebo control groups across treatment interventions in randomized controlled trials for migraine prophylaxis. This study shows that sham acupuncture and sham surgical intervention have a stronger placebo effect than oral pharmacological placebo. The authors “[focused] on a single condition with well-defined diagnostic criteria and outcome measures” in order to clearly confirm previous findings on the relative strength of acupuncture placebo treatments. They extend this finding further, since this study's “results suggest that the response to sham acupuncture and sham surgery can be as great as the mean response to active drugs.”

In this systemic meta-analysis, Meissner et. al. analyzed 79 randomized trials on migraine prophylaxis. The included trials compared an experimental intervention and a placebo control over a period of at least 8 weeks after randomization. The authors found that sham interventions involving a physical procedure (sham surgery and sham acupuncture) were the only significant predictors of response in placebo groups in multivariate analysis (P= .005 and P= .001, respectively). Network meta-analysis confirmed that more patients reported response in sham acupuncture groups than in oral pharmacological placebo groups (odds ratio, 1.88).

The study calculates pooled random-effects estimates according to the type of placebo for the proportions of treatment response, defining a treatment responder as someone who exhibits a reduction in migraine attack frequency by at least 50%. Meta-regression analyses identify sources of heterogeneity, and a network meta-analysis combines direct and indirect comparisons within and across trials, with further analyses for continuous outcomes. The study was funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research and spearheaded by Dr. Karin Meissner of the Institute of Medical Psychology at Ludwig-Maximilian-University in Munich, Germany.

This well-executed study helps clear up one aspect of the muddied waters of acupuncture efficacy studies. In what has been termed an “efficacy paradox,” although an intervention may have a higher level of clinical effectiveness compared to standard care, if the relative proportion of the placebo effect is stonger within the intervention, then the efficacy of that intervention can become statistically insignificant. Dr. Meissner wrote in an email to Reuters Health, “Even though acupuncture is associated with a smaller specific effect when compared to its placebo than are oral pharmacological drugs, the total improvement after sham surgery and sham acupuncture is as large as after active drugs...Since we know today that placebo effects are not imaginary, but real neurobiological phenomena, physicians should not be afraid to try to harness placebo effects and to communicate this benefit to their patients.(1)”

The authors conclude, “although our study cannot prove that this association is causal, the results support the notion that some placebo treatments can trigger clinically relevant responses.” This then encourages the further investigation of “treatment options whose contexts vary placebo-controlled trials and head-to-head comparisons. Otherwise, treatments with small specific effects greater than those of their sham controls are withheld from patients even though they work better than standard treatment.”

This study prompts clinicians to compare placebo effect to treatment effect within a type of intervention, “such as surgery treatment with sham surgery treatment and pill with sham pill,” according to JAMA Internal Medicine editor Rita Redberg. Clinicians must look beyond the efficacy paradox when analyzing treatment options for a specific condition.

1. Brooks, Meghan. “Type of placebo matters in trials of migraine prophylaxis.News Daily. Reuters, 16 Oct 2013. Web. 11 Dec 2013.


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2015 Conference

SAR’S 2015 International Research Conference:
November 12-14, 2015 (Boston, MA, USA)

SAR participated in a joint 1-day meeting with the Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO) and Fascia Research Society in coordination with SAR’s 2015 conference, which was held November 12-14, 2015 in Boston, MA.  SAR’s main conference was held Thursday and Friday, November 12 & 13, and the joint conference day was Saturday, November 14, 2015. 

SAR's next conference is being planned for the spring of 2017, most likely in northern California...details will be announced as plans unfold, and we hope to see you there for another exciting conference program! 


Manual and Electrical Needle Stimulation in Acupuncture Research: Pitfalls and Challenges of Heterogeneity

SAR's second White Paper on Acupuncture Research

Paradoxes in Acupuncture Research: Strategies for Moving Forward

SAR's first White Paper on Acupuncture Research

Acupuncture Research: Strategies for Establishing an Evidence Base

Edited by Hugh MacPherson, Richard Hammerschlag, George Lewith, and Rosa Schnyer

Evidence Based Assessments

SAR's Evidence Based Assessments (EBAs) are designed to help you understand the strengths and limitations of the existing body of research, while providing succinct bullet point summary statements. 

The current library of condition-specific EBAs includes:  Asthma; Neck Pain; Dysmenorrhea; Carpal Tunnel Syndrome; Rhinitis/Sinusitis; Bell's Palsy; Lower Back Pain; and, Headache.  (Access to the EBA library is a key benefit of SAR membership.)  Also included in the library are 1-page handouts that summarize the research related to each condition.  These handouts are designed for practitioners to give to patients or for other information purposes.  Click the image above to view a sample of page selections from a full assessment. 

For access to the full EBA Library, you can either join SAR today where it is included as a benefit of membership, or you can purchase a stand-alone subscription product.  Click the "Join SAR Today" link above to learn more about both membership and available EBA subscription levels and pricing.

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