A new review of acupuncture evidence published in Acupuncture in Medicine claims acupuncture may help to improve mild cognitive impairment, the memory loss that may precede the development of dementia - at least if medicine is also used.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is an effort to quantify a transitional state between normal aging and dementia, whereby an affected person typically exhibits a subtle deterioration in memory capacity beyond what would be expected for his/her age. Around 5% of MCI cases will evolve into dementia so MCI is basically as clinically irrelevant as prediabetes, except about brains.

Several previous acupuncture claims were that acupuncture may reduce MCI symptoms, and the researchers wanted to analyze the available acupuncture evidence to try and quantify the safety and effectiveness of the alternative to medicine. So they trawled Western and Chinese research databases for relevant trials comparing acupuncture and medical treatment that had been published up to July 2015. Their weighting is suspect because they only found 10, and chose 5 of them, which was 568 people. Three directly compared acupuncture with nimodipine, while two evaluated acupuncture combined with nimodipine.

The number of participants in each study varied from 26 to 94, while acupuncture treatment was provided three to five times a week for 8 weeks in four trials, and for 3 months in one.

Their statistical view of the surveys concluded that those in receipt of acupuncture stated they felt better than those on nimodipine alone. And they achieved better scores on two of the principal tests used to assess MCI and dementia: the mini mental state exam and picture recognition. A combination of acupuncture and nimodipine significantly improved mini mental state exam scores when compared to nimodipine alone.

60 percent of the trials reported serious side effects for acupucture, like fainting during treatment and slow bleeding (errhysis) at the needle sites, while nimodipine had upset stomach and mild headache.

The scholars note the high risk of bias in the trials, the randomization process, and the trial design which didn't take account of potential placebo effects. Most of the trials were also carried out in China where patients may prefer acupuncture to medical treatment, even though it has never survived a double-blind clinical trial.