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National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine-funded randomised controlled trials of acupuncture: a systematic review

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Abstract

The work of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) has repeatedly been criticised. Much of this criticism relates to the past funding of studies of acupuncture. The aim of this article is to provide an independent, critical evaluation of the data produced by NCCAM-funded RCTs of acupuncture. Relevant studies were identified using PubMed. Studies were included if they were NCCAM-funded RCTs of acupuncture. Excluded were secondary reports of primary studies, RCTs not testing the effectiveness of acupuncture and National Institutes of Health-funded studies not mentioning NCCAM support. One author extracted the data according to predefined criteria and assessed the risk of bias. The other authors verified these tasks. Thirteen RCTs were included, with sample sizes ranging from seven to 570. Most studies reported pain as the primary outcome. Six RCTs suggested acupuncture was effective. Seven RCTs had a low risk of bias. Numerous methodological shortcomings were identified. Many NCCAM-funded RCTs of acupuncture have important limitations. These findings might improve future studies of acupuncture and could be considered in the ongoing debate regarding NCCAM-funding.

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