Monday, May 31, 2010

Even PZ Myers falls from trees...

I've much appreciation for the dark, sacrilegious with of PZ Myers.  Admittedly, he does from time to time live up to his critics worst invectives, but I understand from whence his own invective emerges; it's kind of the sickness and medicine he and religion trade with each other.  But, as they say in Japan, even monkeys fall from trees now and then.

His latest fall is in an otherwise biting article against a quack practitioner of Chinese medicine. Now I've been a consumer of Chinese medicine now and again; some of it works, especially the wintergreen oil preparations they use (containing saclicylates - aspirin like compounds).  In Myers article, though, he gets a bit too dismissive:

... I'm left marveling: there are no acupuncture points anywhere, it's all a load of hokum, so where do they get off rejecting so unambiguously an assertion from another quack? I see claims that sticking a needle in an ankle will fix a problem in an elbow, for instance, so using their own unsubstantiated illogic, maybe dithering about in the vagina is just the thing to fix a case of dandruff.

Acupuncture eases pain in the limbs because it releases a natural molecule called adenosine, neuroscientists in the United States reported on Sunday.

The mechanism was discovered through experiments in lab mice, which were given an injection of an inflammation-inducing chemical in their right paw.
The researchers inserted fine needles below the midline of the mice's knee, at a well-known acupuncture location called the Zusanli point.

They rotated the needle gently every five minutes for 30 minutes, mimicking a standard acupuncture treatment.
During and just after this operation, levels of adenosine in the tissues surrounding the needle surged 24-fold. The mouse's discomfort -- measurable by the rodents' response time to touch and heat -- was reduced by two-thirds, they found...

Previous work has focused on acupuncture's effectiveness on the central nervous system -- the trunk of nerves in the spinal cord and brain -- rather than the peripheral nervous system.

In the central nervous system, acupuncture creates signals that cause the brain to produce powerful anti-pain chemicals called endorphins.

I'm  inclined to give this credence; its authors are with the University of Rochester Medical Center. They do real science there and are funded to do so.  It is true that like chiropractic (which is useful for very minor back and neck problems, but not much else, in my understanding), acupuncture is often touted as a panacea, but it does have its place in medicine it seems.


Petteri Sulonen said...

I remember reading about an experiment regarding acupuncture, in which one group of people was treated by an acupuncturist, another group of people had pins stuck in them more or less at random by medical professionals competent enough not to hit any vital organs, and a third group was also stuck with pins but only superficially. Turned out that the first two groups experienced significantly more pain relief than the third (placebo) group.

That would make sense in light of these findings—IOW, both Myers and the acupuncturists are right, as in, there are no acupuncture points as such (other than designating areas in which pins can be stuck safely), but acupuncture does really work.

I wish I had the reference, but, sadly, like so many things, I have forgotten it. I thought it was cool though. I also wouldn't rule out the possibility that there really are acupuncture points—i.e., spots in the body in which the effect is more pronounced than in other spots.

Of course, the usual explanation of acupuncture—meridians and such—doesn't make much sense, at least not in literal, scientific terms. I still think it might make sense as a conceptual model for the way we experience stuff going on in our bodies, and as such, might be useful for manipulatory treatments such as acupuncture.

Mumon said...

Maybe Myer's views and this paper's conclusions can be reconciled; it did sound to me though that he was simply throwing out the whole concept, and evidently there was a way to get the questions about acupuncture's validity to yield to the scientific method.

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