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Adverts for acupuncture and craniosacral therapy banned over long COVID treatment claims

Adverts for acupuncture and craniosacral therapy have been banned for making misleading claims about the treatment of long COVID.

A paid-for Facebook ad and an Instagram post for Jo Llewellyn, a craniosacral therapist, included the claim that craniosacral therapists treat long COVID.

Meanwhile, an Instagram post for Peachy Acupuncture said acupuncture and doses of vitamin b12 can "chip away at the fatigue, brain fog and gut issues" the illness causes.

A Facebook ad and website for Serenity Acupuncture, in Bude, also said acupuncture could be used to treat long COVID.

The Craniosacral Therapy Association (CSTA) describes the therapy as "a gentle but potent" treatment in which practitioners place their hands lightly on the patient "using them to listen to you".

Sessions can leave patients feeling "calm and energised, with increased clarity of mind and a feeling of well-being", the CSTA said on its website.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) investigated the ads as part of its wider work on long COVID treatments.

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The watchdog asked for "robust scientific evidence" that craniosacral therapy could be used to treat long COVID, as it thought anyone who saw the ads might believe the therapy "was an effective treatment".

Jo Llewellyn removed the ads after the ASA contacted them, admitting that they had "underestimated the level of evidence that was required" to make the claims in the ad and the post.

The ASA said in the absence of such evidence, it "concluded the ads were misleading and therefore breached the Code."

Peachy Acupuncture also failed to meet the necessary standard of evidence "required for the type of claim being made", the ASA said.

The company said it was careful not to claim they could cure long COVID, adding that there was "significant evidence" that acupuncture could help reduce symptoms.

But the ASA said Serenity Acupuncture provided a link to a resource by the British Acupuncture Council which admitted it did not have enough data to know if acupuncture was an effective treatment for long COVID.

The ASA said: "In any case, we did not consider that a resource was sufficient evidence to substantiate efficacy claims that acupuncture could treat long COVID."

Symptoms of long COVID are wide-ranging and fluctuating, the NHS says, and can include "breathlessness, chronic fatigue, brain fog, anxiety and stress.

Around 1.9 million people, or almost 3% of the UK population, had "self-reported long COVID symptoms" that continued for more than four weeks after they first contracted coronavirus in March this year, the Office for National Statistics said.