A pilot RCT carried out in the USA has found that while both traditional acupuncture (TA) and sham acupuncture (SA) can improve menopause-related vasomotor symptoms (VMS), only TA shows an impact on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Thirty-three peri- and post-menopausal women with at least seven VMS daily were randomised to TA, SA or a waiting-list control (WC). Both the TA and SA groups demonstrated improved VMS trends and both showed significantly improved scores for menopause-specific quality of life compared with the WC group. However, 24-hour urinary measures of total cortisol metabolites and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) were lower only in the TA versus both the SA and WC groups. (A pilot randomized, single-blind, placebo-controlled trial of traditional acupuncture for vasomotor symptoms and mechanistic pathways of menopause. Menopause. 2012 Jan;19(1):54-61).

Acupuncture can help reduce stress for women experiencing infertility, according to Australian researchers. In a pilot study, 32 women with a history of infertility received six sessions of acupuncture over eight weeks. At the end of the intervention, women in the acupuncture group described the impact of acupuncture as positive. Significant changes on scores relating to infertility stress, and a trend toward improved self-efficacy and less anxiety were reported in the acupuncture group compared with a wait-list control group. After treatment women described increased physical relaxation and psychological calmness, as well as a changed perspective in relation to coping. (The effect of acupuncture on psychosocial outcomes for women experiencing infertility: a pilot randomized controlled trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2011 Oct;17(10):923-30).

Tai chi has a better impact on preventing falls in the elderly than conventional physiotherapy, perhaps because it leads to an increased sense of self-efficacy in practitioners. A Canadian team randomised 152 older adults to either supervised tai chi or usual physiotherapy. While both exercise programs significantly improved fall-related outcomes, only the tai chi intervention decreased the incidence of falls. Comparing clinical variables related to falls (e.g. balance, gait and fear of falling), both groups generally followed the same pattern, showing a significant improvement at the end of the intervention period .  Self-efficacy, however, was found to significantly improve only with the tai chi intervention. (The effect of supervised Tai Chi intervention compared to a physiotherapy program on fall-related finical outcomes: a randomized clinical trial. Disabil Rehabil. 2012;34(3):196-201).

The first pragmatic randomised controlled trial of tai chi for people with low back pain has shown that it can improve pain and disability outcomes in this population. Australian researchers randomised 160 volunteers with persistent non-specific low back pain to either tai chi or a wait-list control group, who continued with their usual health care. The tai chi intervention consisted of 18 forty-minute group sessions over a 10-week period delivered by a qualified instructor. Tai chi was found to reduce the bothersomeness of back symptoms by 1.7 points and pain intensity by 1.3 points (on a 10-point scale). It was also found to improve self-reported disability by 2.6 points on a 24-point scale. (Tai chi exercise for treatment of pain and disability in people with persistent low back pain: a randomized controlled trial. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2011 Nov;63(11):1576-83).

A satisfying life is good for the health of the heart, shows the results from a large study of British civil servants. Coronary risk factors and satisfaction within seven life domains (love relationships, leisure activities, standard of living, job, family, sex, and one’s self) were assessed in 7956 initially healthy members of the Whitehall II study cohort. Participants rated their satisfaction in each domain on a scale of one (‘very dissatisfied’) to seven (‘very satisfied’). Ratings for each domain were also combined to provide an average life satisfaction score. Participants’ health records were then examined for coronary deaths, heart attacks, and angina over a six-year follow-up period. Results showed that higher levels of average life satisfaction were associated with a significantly reduced risk (13%) of coronary heart disease. This reduced risk of heart disease was also associated with satisfaction in four specific life domains – job, family, sex and self – and was found in both men and women. A statistically significant dose–response effect was found – so that those reporting the greatest average life satisfaction enjoyed the greatest risk reduction in total coronary disease. (Heart health when life is satisfying: evidence from the Whitehall II cohort study. Eur Heart J. 2011 Nov;32(21):2672-7).

Having a high diversity of bacterial species in the gut may protect babies against developing allergies, according to a comprehensive study of intestinal microflora in allergic and healthy infants conducted in Sweden. Stool samples were analysed at one month of age from 20 children with IgE-associated eczema, as well as from another 20 healthy controls. The researchers then used DNA sequencing to identify the bacterial species in the samples. The results showed that gut microflora diversity at one month was significantly greater in healthy children, compared to those children with atopic eczema. The authors results help substantiate the ‘hygiene hypothesis’, which suggests that early exposure to environmental allergens reduces the risk of developing allergies. They suggest that the composition of intestinal microflora during the first weeks of life is critical to the development of the infant immune system. In the absence of sufficient stimuli from a wide variety of bacteria, the immune system may overreact against harmless antigens in the environment, such as foods. (Low diversity of the gut microbiota in infants with atopic eczema. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2011 Dec 6. [Epub ahead of print]).

Yoga is a more effective treatment for chronic lower back pain than conventional GP care, according to the UK’s largest ever study into its benefits. The trial involved 313 people who were receiving GP care for chronic back pain. Participants were randomised to receive usual care alone, or usual care plus 12 weeks of group yoga classes specially designed for those with lower back pain. The results showed that the yoga group had better back function at three, six and 12 months compared with the usual care group. Around 60% of people in the yoga group continued with their practice after the end of the classes. (Yoga for chronic low back pain: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2011 Nov 1;155(9):569-78). In another study from the USA, 228 adults with chronic low back pain were randomised to 12 weekly classes of yoga, conventional stretching exercises or a self-care book. Yoga was found to be more effective in improving function and reducing symptoms than self-care (-2.5 versus -1.1 points on a 23-point disability scale), but not more effective than stretching (at six, 12 and 26 weeks). (A Randomized Trial Comparing Yoga, Stretching, and a Self-care Book for Chronic Low Back Pain. Arch Intern Med. 2011 Dec 12;171(22):2019-26).

Taking part in a programme of qigong exercise may be beneficial for people with type-2 diabetes, according to an RCT carried out in Australia. The study included 41 participants with elevated blood glucose levels who were randomised to a qigong exercise intervention or a usual medical care control group. Physical and haematological measures were assessed at baseline and after 12 weeks. At the end of the study period, the results showed significant differences between the groups in favour of tai chi, in terms of body weight, waist circumference and leg strength. In addition, indicators of diabetes control (HbA1c, insulin resistance and fasting blood insulin) were found to have improved significantly more in the tai chi group compared with usual care. (Qi-gong mind-body therapy and diabetes control. A randomized controlled trial. Am J Prey Med. 2011 Aug;41(2):152-8).

Korean research suggests that tai chi can improve lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTSs), quality of life (QOL) and testosterone levels in patients with benign prostate hypertrophy (BPH). Fifty-six elderly patients with BPH were randomised to either 12 weeks of tai chi group or a control group. After 12 weeks of treatment, the tai chi group showed significant improvement in LUTS (34%) and QOL (24%), compared with baseline. In addition, the results showed a significant effect of tai chi on testosterone levels, but no significant effect on insulin or glucose. (Tai chi for lower urinary tract symptoms and quality of life in elderly patients with benign prostate hypertrophy: a randomized controlled trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:624692. Epub 2011 Oct 3).

Practising tai chi can lead to a reduction in levels of inflammatory markers in the blood of older adults. American researchers randomised 83 healthy older adults to 16 weeks of either tai chi chih (TCC) or health education (HE). In subjects who showed elevated circulating levels of the inflammatory marker interleukin 6 (IL-6) at baseline, TCC was able to reduce IL-6 to levels comparable with the lowest baseline measurements. Decreases in depressive symptoms in the two groups were found to correlate with decreases in IL-6. (Mitigating Cellular Inflammation in Older Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial of Tai Chi Chih. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2011 Sep 19. [Epub ahead of print]).