Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Acupuncture Skeptics Losing Ground

It's been awhile since I've seen an all-out skeptical tirade against acupuncture. Back in 2012 I posted a study that found clear evidence of its effectiveness in response to an article attacking the practice. Since then, I've put forth the idea that acupuncture may work by affecting elements of the lymphatic system, and according to a new study published in the journal Molecular Neurobiology I wasn't that far off. Researchers tracked the precise biochemical changes that accompany acupuncture treatment, and have identified what could be a totally scientifically verifiable mechanism.

The secret is in the biochemistry. M2 macrophages are an important source of IL-10 (interleukin-10), an anti-inflammatory cytokine that plays an important role in immune responses. Cytokines are proteins released by cells that regulate reactions between cells. Manual acupuncture successfully downregulates M1 macrophages and upregulates M2 macrophages thereby promoting the release of greater IL-10 concentrations. As a result of IL-10 release, pain and inflammation significantly reduce.

This study measured responses in muscle tissues and confirmed that M1 to M2 macrophage phenotype switching is triggered by acupuncture stimulation. Acupuncture literally flips a switch wherein initial inflammatory responses are reduced and the secondary healing responses are promoted. M1 macrophage downregulation and M2 macrophage upregulation triggered by acupuncture was positively associated with reductions in muscle pain and inflammation.

The researchers tested the biochemical process by adding an IL-10 blocking agent in the laboratory experiment. When IL-10 was chemically blocked, acupuncture did not reduce pain and swelling. However, when no blocking agent was applied, acupuncture successfully reduced both pain and swelling. The M2 macrophage upregulation by manual acupuncture successfully created a greater source of IL-10. The researchers note, “These findings provide new evidence that MA (manual acupuncture) produces a phenotypic switch in macrophages and increases IL-10 concentrations in muscle to reduce pain and inflammation.”

Where I suspect the lymphatic system comes in is that the interleukin agent and possibly the macrophages themselves travels through the lymphatic vessels, which explains why the acupuncture points seem to roughly follow the lymphatic system and work better than "sham acupuncture" which targets random points. Furthermore, the Chinese research suggesting that Qigong produces infrasonic waves might figure into this model as well, if The tissues in question respond to vibration as well as penetration.

If this research holds up it's a big loss for the skeptics, who have been insisting for years that acupuncture doesn't do anything because its traditional explanation doesn't line up with anything scientific. I'm convinced that magick and psychic powers are in a similar position today to where acupuncture research was in the late 1980's. Researchers had just concluded that gate control theory didn't explain pain reduction from acupuncture because the needles were too weak a stimulus and weren't sure where to go from there. But they were pretty clear that it was doing something.

Ever since I knew enough about Qigong to be dangerous, it's seemed fairly obvious to me that the lymphatic system was a good target for research. Lymphatic fluid is moved through the body not by a pump, but by physical movement - hence the effectiveness of Qigong set exercises. The idea of "stagnant Qi" might refer to actual stagnation of the fluid itself. Finally, Qigong treatment employing vibration should get the fluid moving again and alleviate any symptoms caused by that same stagnation.

So this is what we need to do in terms of researching the paranormal. I'm convinced that wherever magick touches the physical world there must be an effect that corresponds in some fashion to a measurable mechanism. If we keep looking we will eventually find it, even if the skeptics aren't too happy about it.

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Unknown said...

Hi Scott,

Interesting article. Dr. Cho one of the collaborators on inventing PET scan, and some other researchers, found that stimulating an acupuncture point on the lateral side of the foot, lit up the optical cortex in the brain via MRI. The Chinese had said that the point affects vision, but there is no known connection from the lateral foot to the optical cortex. In other words, biochemistry is changing as a result of what the Chinese have always electro-mganetic fields...even if very minute. This could happen vis a type of resonance system.

Nerd said...

Hey man, I actually look at qi or aether as the real paradigm, whereas I look at quantum theory (and general relativity) as explanatory fictions.

I don't fuss too much over the physical anatomical structures, although Kim Bonghan did some interesting work on "meridians" years ago. There's been a rebirth/new controversy over his work in the last 10-15 years or so.