A group of researchers say that the 3,000-year-old Chinese therapy known as acupuncture could become a powerful ally in the battle against Alzheimer’s disease. The team found that the procedure can improve early symptoms of the condition in particular the memory loss associated with it.
The research group has long suspected that acupuncture could improve mild cognitive impairment’s (MCI’s) symptoms. MCI is an phase of cognitive decline preceding that linked to dementia, but more severe than the aging-related cognitive impairment.
Many past studies had shown that the Chinese method can improve cognitive skills, mood, and even delay dementia’s progress. However, the recent study promises to deliver a comprehensive view of these studies conducted by Western and Chinese researchers.
Past research has either likened acupuncture to a calcium blocker that prevents a gene mutation that is suspected to lead to dementia, the nimodipine, or has combined the calcium blocker with the therapy to measure the effects.
Trials have revealed that Alzheimer’s patients who underwent acupuncture fared better on cognitive tests than those who were given just nimodipine. Study authors concluded that the procedure is a helpful adjunctive treatment to the calcium blocker in improving MCI symptoms.
The latest study also found that acupuncture can improve the quality of life and delay memory loss in patients affected by pre-dementia stage of Alzheimer’s, also known as aMCI.
On the other hand, scientists acknowledged that their meta-analysis has some limitations. For instance, in some of the reviewed studies the number of study participants was relatively low (below 600). So, the findings should not be applied to the general population.
Other limitations include side-effects acupuncture may have in some people such as minor bleeding, nausea or fainting. Some patients who were on nimodipine said that they had minor headaches and abdominal cramps after the procedure.
Study investigators recommend more studies to be conducted on the topic before acupuncture can be recommended to the entire population. The new studies should also involve more patients and focus on acupuncture procedures that can clearly show how the therapy affects MCI symptoms.
They also called for safety evaluation for every condition in future studies, even though acupuncture rarely involves adverse effects.
The meta-analysis was published this week in the BMJ journal Acupuncture in Medicine.