Acupuncture ‘more than a placebo’


This was a study done by UCL/University of Southampton jointly, published in the journal NeuroScience, using PET (positron emission tomography) scans to examine brain activity of arthritis sufferers undergoing acupuncture. 14 volunteers each had 3 kinds of treatment in random order: blunt needles, which didn’t pierce the skin and which the volunteers realised wouldn’t help them, collapsible trick needles which appeared to pierce the skin but didn’t, and real acupuncture.

The 3 approaches produced 3 separate patterns of brain activity: the blunt needles just activated the sense of touch; the trick needles stimulated opiate (natural pain-killing activity), and so did the real acupuncture, which also activated a region of the brain known as the insular, thought to be involved in the modulation of pain.

So on the face of it, real acupuncture has a measurable effect on brain activity differing from needles which don’t pierce the skin (even if the patient thinks they do). I’m not going into that here, as what interests me is the comment at the bottom of the article from Professor Henry McQuay, professor of pain relief at the University of Oxford: ‘…it is extremely difficult, technically, to study acupuncture and tease out the placebo effect.” 
That makes perfect sense, as randomised controlled trials are an attempt (among other things) to remove or reduce individual variation in measuring the effectiveness of an outcome.

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The above with respect and thanks to Hypnotherapist Jack Raymond. 

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