Space City Skeptics

The Official Blog of the Houston Skeptic Society

Acupuncture for Chronic Itching?…..

with 3 comments

The following gem was included in an Australian Broadcasting Corporation report on the recent identification by University of Minnesota researchers of specific spinothalamic tract neurons implicated in the sensation of itching and shut down by the act of scratching. The researchers, whose study is published as a Brief Communication in the April issue of Nature Neuroscience, express hope that now that this pathway has been discovered, it may eventually pave the way for treatments, pharmaceutical or involving electrical stimulation, that replicate the phenomenon and render scratching obsolete. For folks with certain conditions associated with chronic itching, which can be debilitating for some, this would be a welcome advance.

“Professor Marcello Costa, a neuroscientist at Adelaide’s Flinders University, says a pain treatment like acupuncture could be developed for itching.

“The acupuncture is not damaging, it’s a little bit invasive but it works very well because it activates much better than just rubbing,” Professor Costa said.

“So we all discovered rubbing by ourselves, just like we discovered scratching; we have a scientific rubbing which is called acupuncture but we don’t have a scientific scratching. So I expect this paper will generate interest in developing such a scientific scratcher.””

In the article, it is implied that Costa was one of the scientists or doctors in Australia excited by the team’s findings, and he appears to have no connection with the research. In reading the full text of the paper, I can find no mention of acupuncture so it would seem that Costa came completely out of left field with this comment, which makes not a lick of sense. How does one develop a new acupuncture treatment? Does a new acupuncture point, where there exists yet another mysterious blockage of “energy” as it courses along its equally enigmatic meridian, need to be discovered? One that impacts this specific spinothalamic tract pathway?

Clearly Costa already knows that acupuncture “works very well” for itching because it “activates much better than rubbing”. But activates what? Regardless, I’m sure we will soon be reading about a landmark study proving that acupuncture cures itching. It will involve a small number of unblinded subjects with no control group naturally but that won’t matter to the people that already know it works.

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Written by skepticpedi

April 10, 2009 at 10:07 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Oh dear! I just found this reference to this article while browsing the web! It refers to my comments on an article appeared in a most reputable scientific journal.
    This may be too late to correct the misinterpretation by the author of this article. It is always disheartening to be misinterpreted even by skeptics, usually very sharp and clear (I do collaborate with the Skeptic Society). There is no mystery how acupunture works, where it works, ie by activating touch fibres that reduce the passage of pain impulses in the central nervous system before they become ‘pain’. Stimulation of sensory nerve fibres other than those carrying itch sensation (separate from pain fibres) could well also affect itch is a similar way as some touch fibres alter the pain fibres.

    There is no magic in this, no implication of mysterious forces or meridiens etc etc. Paradoxically I was clearly misunderstood as a proponent of the quackery of chinese medicine acupunture principles!
    How ironic for a scientist founder of the Friends of Science in Medicine (FSM) and author of several articles debunking pseudoscientific medicines (theconversation.edu.au/profiles/marcello-costa-284)!
    I hope somebody reads this!
    Marcello

    Marcello Costa

    April 10, 2012 at 12:01 am

  2. We don’t use this blog much any more, but the author of the piece is still around and I can send him your notes. He’s a pediatrician that was in Houston but has since moved to another city.

    thanks for your comments.

    Geek Goddess

    April 11, 2012 at 6:42 pm

  3. As I tell my resident and medical students, it is silly to determine a mechanism of action when you haven’t proven an effect. Or at least I say something close to that. You belief that acupuncture works via that mechanism is just that. You assumption that acupuncture works for pain is just that. The evidence in favor of acupuncture having a specific effect beyond that of placebo is weak. And there are several large and well designed studies involving good sham acupuncture techniques that show no difference between groups? I gladly apologize for mistakenly assuming that you support the beliefs inherent in traditional acupuncture but you replacing magic with pseudoscience is not much better.

    theredstickskeptic

    August 5, 2012 at 9:45 pm


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