Sticking needles into babies doesn’t reduce colic. Who’d have thought…

More nonsense, this time acupuncture for babies!

Ninety babies were randomized in a multicenter trial of sticking needles into non-existent meridians to channel imaginary Qi energy. Unfortunately the condition they were investigating, infantile colic, causes a lot of real distress to parents.

Reasonably blinded study, found nothing.

Go figure.

About Keith Barrington

I am a neonatologist and clinical researcher at Sainte Justine University Health Center in Montréal
This entry was posted in Neonatal Research and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Sticking needles into babies doesn’t reduce colic. Who’d have thought…

  1. spantideas says:

    I can tell that you are against anything that isn’t under the umbrella of western medicine (although many western studies have proven the effectiveness of acupuncture in chronic and acute pain). However, as a clinical researcher and a professor that you are I suppose that you support evidence based medicine. If so, what would your evidence based answer be if someone asked you if they could ease their newborns’ colic with acupuncture?
    I mean no disrespect, I ‘m just interested in your point of view as I have been reading your posts and find them very interesting.

    • First of all your premise is incorrect. The preponderance of the evidence shows no effect of acupuncture for any outcome. Well blinded studies show the same lack of effect whether needles are used to actually pierce the skin compared to sham treatment, when the insertion points are randomly selected or follow traditional points. True believers now state that this shows that acupuncture is ‘harnessing the power of the placebo’ which is just another way of recognizing that it is ineffective.
      Most of the placebo effect is spontaneous improvement, accompanied by regression toward the mean. For some outcomes, particularly pain, distraction, the power of suggestion and elaborate rituals, like acupuncture, can provide some temporary relief. For severe pain, it is inappropriate and unethical to use acupuncture.

      If someone asked me individually, specifically about acupuncture, I would say all that and more; the meridians do not exist, they are imaginary. Qi and other energy fields do not exist, they are imaginary.
      There exist reviews of the evidence for colic, which show that nothing much works, except for waiting it out. Which means that eventually it gets better, and parents often ascribe the improvement to the last thing they did before they saw their baby getting better. As medical scientists it is important that we do better than that, and actually research things for which there is a reasonable prior probability that they are effective.

      Your other premise, that I am against anything that isn’t under the umbrella of western medicine is also incorrect. I don’t care where therapies are from, northern, southern, and eastern therapies are fine by me, as long as they have been shown to work.

      Several of the authors of the study I criticized have been very influential in providing evidence for the efficacy of sucrose solutions and of kangaroo care for pain relief in the newborn infant. Those interventions had some prior plausibility, they were based on reasonable scientific rationale, they were appropriately investigated, and we now use them. Are they western ideas? I have no idea, but they are now evidence based practices that improve the experience of thousands of babies.

  2. Anonymous Commenter says:

    I’m just a layperson. But isn’t this a poorly designed study? We don’t exactly know what colic is. Am I right? “Colic” can be caused by gas or other problems. So doesn’t that doom the study from the start?

    I’m also concerned that acupuncture is legal for babies. Wouldn’t that hurt them? Babies seem more sensitive to pain. Isn’t that an ethical concern?

    • spantideas says:

      I will totally agree with you upon the non existence of meridians. Western theories of acupuncture effectiveness do not embed the theories of meridians, Qi and yin yang.
      However, I insist that there are some cohrane meta-analyses worth reviewing regarding the effectiveness of acupuncture protocols on chronic pain. Some older studies have proven the analgesic effect even on rabbits, therefore excluding the placebo effect.

  3. Rachel Dee says:

    Seeing them suffer with colic is already unbearable and now needles? It wouldn’t even cross my mind to try acupuncture for my baby and there’s not even a solid proof or study that it totally works.

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