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Another overhyped acupuncture study misinterpreted – Science Based Medicine

June 2

Full Article: Another overhyped acupuncture study misinterpreted

This study actually says very little about acupuncture. What this study shows is that sticking needles in mice causes adenosine production and that that adenosine can blunt the pain response in nerves by binding to the A1 receptor. Nothing more. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t validate acupuncture. The only thing in common with acupuncture in this study is the needle sticking part, and the investigators might as well conclude that this study validates ear piercing for pain relief. (Egads! Battlefield acupuncture strikes back!) So, it’s quite possible that needles twisted in the area near a nerve might release a flood of adenosine that might bind to A1 receptors in nearby neurons and blunt the pain sensation. No “meridians” or qi is needed to explain that. Moreover, this study notwithstanding, Nedergaard seems at a loss to explain how her results might be reconciled with numerous studies in humans that show clearly that (1) it does not matter where you stick the needles and (2) it doesn’t even matter if the needles are stuck through the skin. As I’ve pointed out before, just twisting the end of a toothpick against the skin produces the same effect as acupuncture.

What really bugs me about this article, though, is that it’s actually pretty cool science, for the most part. It’s not as new as I thought it was before some of my readers corresponded with me and I did a few PubMed searches, but in general its conclusions about the role of the A1 receptor and local adenosine release in response to tissue trauma seem sound. These guys have found something that may even have a potential clinical application. For instance, they found that local injection of A1 receptor agonists works the same as the “acupuncture” and that adding compounds that slow the removal of adenosine from the tissues improves the efficacy of the adenosine released into the tissues by minor trauma. Scientists can work with that. Scientists could take these observations and use them as the scientific justification to work on better, more specific, and longer acting A1 agonists. Perhaps they could even develop oral drugs that are broken down into adenosine or A1 receptor agonists in the peripheral tissues. If this paper’s conclusions regarding the importance of adenosine in pain signaling are correct, these would represent stragies that could very well work and very well improve pain control. One could even envision implantable pellets that could be placed in wounds or near relevant nerves to release A1 receptor agonists right where they’re needed over a long period of time.

Unfortunately, Nedergaard and her team are too enamored of the woo that is acupuncture to emphasize the true significance and potential usefulness of their findings. Worse, they were rewarded for their infatuation with acupuncture with not just a paper in a high impact neuroscience journal but with all sorts of publicity around the world. Instead of working to turn these observations into usable therapies, now Nedergaard and her collaborators will likely use their preliminary data to apply to NCCAM for a grant to study adenosine in acupuncture further, rather than pursuing this observation in a manner far more likely to lead to a clinical benefit in human beings. So much the pity. Woo poisons the real science it touches.

Finally, when you see aficionados of acupuncture cite this paper as “evidence” that acupuncture “works,” remember this: This study says absolutely nothing at all about all the other myriad claimed benefits of acupuncture in fertility treatments, headache, or hot flashes after menopause, to name a few. Sadly, it doesn’t even say that much about the use of acupuncture for chronic pain.

Full Article: Another overhyped acupuncture study misinterpreted

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