Acupuncture could be beneficial in improving the memory loss known as mild cognitive impairment, a condition that precedes dementia, according to a review of studies by Chinese researchers.
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI), when an individual shows a larger deterioration in memory capacity than what would be expected at their age, evolves into dementia in 5-10% of cases each year.
Although several previous studies have already suggested that acupuncture may help reduce the symptoms of MCI, a team of researchers from Wuhan University, China, wanted to look further into the safety and the effectiveness this alternative technique.
The team chose five studies from both Western and Chinese databases to include in their research, with 26 to 94 participants in each study, and 568 individuals in total.
In four of the studies participants received acupuncture treatment three to five times a week for a period of eight weeks, and in one study, for a period of three months.
Three of the studies also compared acupuncture with the drug nimodipine, sometimes prescribed to those with cognitive impairment, whilst the other two looked at the effect of acupuncture when combined with nimodipine.
The analysis of the studies showed that when comparing acupuncture against nimodipine, those who received sessions of acupuncture showed greater clinical efficacy rates and performed better on two of the main tests used to assess MCI and dementia than those who had been treated with nimodipine alone.
Those who received a combination of acupuncture and nimodipine also showed positive results, performing significantly better on one of the tests, compared to treatment with nimodipine alone.
However the team did point out that three of the trials reported side effects for both acupuncture and nimodipine, including fainting and slow bleeding (errhysis) at the needle sites for some of those receiving acupuncture, and gut symptoms and mild headaches for some of those receiving nimodipine.
The studies themselves also had their limitations, one of which is that most were carried out in China, where patients may prefer acupuncture to medical treatment. Although the results so far are still promising, the researchers concluded that further and larger trials are needed in Western settings before any firm conclusions can be made about how effective and safe acupuncture is in treating MCI.
The study can be found online published in the journal Acupuncture In Medicine.