A recent study published in Nature Neuroscience in mice suggests a physiological explanation for the pain-relieving effects of acupuncture. Adenosine, a neurotransmitter (a signalling compound around the body’s nervous system), is released in response to acupuncture & activate adenosine A1 receptors (proteins found in the membranes of pain conducting nerves) to elicit analgesia or pain relief. In Ed Yong’s brilliant blog Not Rocket Science he breaks the paper down & questions whether the claims are over-stated – for instance stimulation of local areas, without acupuncture or needles per se, may also cause sufficient elevation of adenosine & resulting analgesia.
I left the following comment on Ed’s blog & thought it’d make an interesting topic here at GSTC:
‘On a broader sweep, it got me thinking about the placebo effect. I know this isn’t an original thought, but assuming that the placebo effect is significant in pain relief, then isn’t this a valid piece of a medical practitioner’s arsenal for treating patients? Or, in other words, is it right, ethically or Hippocratically, for a Dr. to knowingly defraud their patients with whatever works (yes, even homeopathy if the patient believes it works) to elicit a placebo effect? I’m not pro-alternative remedies, but if the placebo is a sufficiently strong effect isn’t it worth deliberately eliciting this response if it helps?’