It’s been a big week for acupuncture research. The other day we wrote about an impressive study that found that acupuncture is more effective than morphine for the sort of acute pain that can wind you up in the emergency room. And now a meta-analysis has found that acupuncture can actually reverse memory loss. . . .

People with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) suffer from memory loss. Mild cognitive impairment will progress into Alzheimer’s disease in 5-10% of people. One indicator of whether people with MCI are at increased risk of dementia is that impaired short term memory is their main symptom. This subset of MCI is called amnestic MCI, or AMCI. People with AMCI have a higher risk of progression to Alzheimer’s.

This intriguing study is a meta-analysis of five studies that included 568 people with AMCI. Three of the studies compared acupuncture to 30mg 3 times a day of nimodipine, a drug used for AMCI. The other two studies compared the same dose of nimodipine alone to nimodipine plus acupuncture. Acupuncture treatments were performed 3-5 times a week for 8-12 weeks.

Compared to the drug, acupuncture produced significantly greater improvements in mini-mental state examination (MMSE) scores and on scores on a picture recognition exam; compared to the drug alone, adding acupuncture significantly improved scores on the MMSE. These results show the superiority of acupuncture to medication for the memory loss of AMCI.

Though the five studies were not blinded, this meta-analysis provides the exciting promise that acupuncture can benefit people suffering from AMCI, which is especially important given the failure of pharmaceutical drugs to benefit mild cognitive impairment.

Acupunct Med 2016; doi:10.1136/acupmed-2015-010989

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Linda Woolven is a Registered acupuncturist (and Master Herbalist). She is a member of the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontatio. For help with cognition and memory, make an appointment to see Linda Woolven now.

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