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PLoS One. 2016 Mar 31;11(3):e0149161. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0149161. eCollection 2016.

The Effectiveness of Individualized Acupuncture Protocols in the Treatment of Gulf War Illness: A Pragmatic Randomized Clinical Trial.

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New England School of Acupuncture, Newton, MA, United States of America.
Department of Epidemiology, College of Medicine and College of Public Health and Health Professions, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, United States of America.
Boston Veterans Healthcare System/Jamaica Plain Campus, Boston, MA, United States of America.
University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, United States of America.



Gulf War Illness is a Complex Medical Illness characterized by multiple symptoms, including fatigue, sleep and mood disturbances, cognitive dysfunction, and musculoskeletal pain affecting veterans of the first Gulf War. No standard of care treatment exists.


This pragmatic Randomized Clinical Trial tested the effects of individualized acupuncture treatments offered in extant acupuncture practices in the community; practitioners had at least 5 years of experience plus additional training provided by the study. Veterans with diagnosed symptoms of Gulf War Illness were randomized to either six months of biweekly acupuncture treatments (group 1, n = 52) or 2 months of waitlist followed by weekly acupuncture treatments (group 2, n = 52). Measurements were taken at baseline, 2, 4 and 6 months. The primary outcome is the SF-36 physical component scale score (SF-36P) and the secondary outcome is the McGill Pain scale.


Of the 104 subjects who underwent randomization, 85 completed the protocol (82%). A clinically and statistically significant average improvement of 9.4 points (p = 0.03) in the SF-36P was observed for group 1 at month 6 compared to group 2, adjusting for baseline pain. The secondary outcome of McGill pain index produced similar results; at 6 months, group 1 was estimated to experience a reduction of approximately 3.6 points (p = 0.04) compared to group 2.


Individualized acupuncture treatment of sufficient dose appears to offer significant relief of physical disability and pain for veterans with Gulf War Illness. This work was supported by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs through the Gulf War Illness Research Program under Award No. W81XWH-09-2-0064. Opinions, interpretations, conclusions and recommendations are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by the Department of Defense.


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