Understanding the Placebo Effect

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Modern wonder drugs can be quite powerful, but sometimes, the power of suggestion is also a big part of the cure.

If your physician prescribes a drug and after taking it you start to feel better, is it because of the medication? Or is it because when an authority figure scribbles something on a pad, the patient naturally expects it to work regardless of whether the drug has any effect or not?

Some patients will inevitably claim that their medical condition has improved (whether that has actually transpired or not) even when given something like a sugar pill that has no medicinal value. That’s known as the placebo effect, and it is part of why some patients in drug trials receive placebos instead of the medication itself.

Studying the perceived and real improvement of those who received the medication over those who did not is essential to determining the effectiveness of a given drug.

This is a simple concept, but very important when deciding on a course of treatment for a medical condition. For many people—though not all, and likely not even a majority—the success of a particular treatment is as much the power of suggestion as it is the method itself.

Although placebos are mostly associated with clinical trials and pharmaceutical companies, they have an impact on how homeopathic treatment methods are viewed as well.

Those who criticize the use of natural herbs, foods or plants to cure diseases or treat ailments often claim that they work because of the placebo effect, and that it’s only the suggestion of curative powers that has an effect.

However, there are a couple of problems with this line of thought. The first is that it’s something that obviously cuts both ways—if the placebo effect becomes a patient’s primary worry, any course of treatment is probably going to be less effective just because said patient will be looking for signs of failure instead of success.

Additionally, most homeopathic treatments have been “tested” for hundreds or thousands of years. They are, in fact, often the basis for the fancier drugs cooked up in laboratories.

Ironically, sometimes the materials used in the placebo may wind up having similar effects to the chemicals in the drugs anyway. For example, olive oil and corn oil have been used in trials of cholesterol-fighting drugs, and both have monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, as well as antioxidant and ant-inflammatory properties, that may reduce symptoms on their own.

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Pat Cavemen

PAT is the clueless flirt. Hey, every tribe needs one, right? She also enjoys swimming, fishing, eating and taking long romantic walks on the prehistoric beach.

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