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Standardised or individualised traditional Chinese acupuncture is no better than a sham procedure in reducing blood pressure in people with hypertension.

Previous findings from small clinical trials and studies of individual cases have suggested a benefit for acupuncture in treating hypertension. However, until now, no data from large trials have been reported.

Researchers from the New England Research Institutes in Watertown, Massachusetts, USA, conducted the Stop Hypertension with the Acupuncture Research Program (SHARP), which involved 192 subjects with untreated high blood pressure, ranging from 140/90 to 179/109 mm Hg. They randomly assigned the participants to undergo standardised acupuncture at preselected points, individualised traditional Chinese acupuncture, or sham acupuncture - that is, needle puncture at non-acupuncture sites. The subjects underwent up to 12 sessions over 6 to 8 weeks, and their blood pressure was monitored every 2 weeks for 10 weeks.

It was found that the average drop in blood pressure from baseline to 10 weeks was similar in each group, with a decline of around 3 points in the upper and lower readings - not enough to make much difference. The researchers were unable to find any patient subgroups, based on age, race, gender, baseline blood pressure, or other factors, for which active acupuncture was more effective than sham acupuncture at reducing blood pressure.

Though acupuncture is receiving a number of proofs of inadequacy, it continues to be quite popular in Asia.