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Summary

Background:  Acupuncture is one of the most popular types of complementary/alternative medicine. It is sometimes used as a treatment for schizophrenia.

Aims:  The objective of this review is to assess systematically the clinical evidence for or against acupuncture as a treatment for schizophrenia.

Methods:  We searched 20 databases from their inception to May 2009 without language restrictions. All randomised clinical trials (RCTs) of acupuncture, with or without electrical stimulation or moxibustion for patients with schizophrenia were considered for inclusion.

Results:  Thirteen RCTs, all originating from China, met the inclusion criteria. One RCT reported significant effects of electroacupuncture (EA) plus drug therapy for improving auditory hallucunations and positive symptom compared with sham EA plus drug therapy. Four RCTs showed significant effects of acupuncture for response rate compared with antipsychotic drugs [= 360, relative risk (RR): 1.18, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.03–1.34, p = 0.01; heterogeneity: τ2 = 0.00, χ2 = 2.98, p = 0.39, I2 = 0%]. Seven RCTs showed significant effects of acupuncture plus antipsychotic drug therapy for response rate compared with antipsychotic drug therapy (= 457, RR: 1.15, 95% CI: 1.04–1.28, p = 0.008, heterogeneity: τ2 = 0.00, χ2 = 6.56, p = 0.36, I2 = 9%). Two RCTs tested laser acupuncture against sham laser acupuncture. One RCT found beneficial effects of laser acupuncture on hallucination and the other RCT showed significant effects of laser acupuncture on response rate, Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale and clinical global index compared with sham laser. The methodological quality was generally poor and there was not a single high quality trial.

Conclusion:  These results provide limited evidence for the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating the symptoms of schizophrenia. However, the total number of RCTs, the total sample size and the methodological quality were too low to draw firm conclusions. As all studies originated from China, international studies are needed to test whether there is any effect.