What does the evidence really say about acupuncture for IBS?



Dr. Hickner’s conclusion from his editorial, “The mainstreaming of alternative therapies” (J Fam Pract. 2015;64:451) that acupuncture “can relieve symptoms” of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is not based on “solid evidence.” I read the same abstract from the Cochrane database on acupuncture for IBS that he cited in his editorial but came to a different conclusion.

According to the Cochrane authors’ conclusions, “Sham-controlled RCTs have found no benefits of acupuncture…for IBS symptom severity or IBS-related quality of life.” The authors noted a risk of “high” bias in all of the other studies in the Cochrane database. This important caveat should serve as a caution to any physician seeking to draw a conclusion from those other studies.

Paul D. Fuchs, MD
Laurel Hill, NC

Author’s response:
Dr. Fuchs is right in calling me to task on this particular meta-analysis. I based my comment on the finding that acupuncture was better than 2 pharmacologic therapies that have shown benefit for patients with IBS, but the quality of the studies was not high, as Dr. Fuchs points out.

John Hickner, MD, MSc
Editor-in-chief, The Journal of Family Practice

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