The Power of Placebo

The Power of Placebo

If you have ever studied the results of experimental drug testing,  you will know that more often than not the placebo that is used in comparison with the new drug is more effective than the drug itself.  That’s the placebo effect.

pla·ce·bo ef·fect noun – a beneficial effect, produced by a placebo drug or treatment, that cannot be attributed to the properties of the placebo itself, and must therefore be due to the patient’s belief in that treatment.

This illustrates the power of the mind on our health. It shows that our beliefs, conjured up in our minds, can cause a pill to have the desired effect even though it, theoretically, has no effect at all.

In many cases, the drug your doctor recommends as the latest and greatest cure for what ails you is only a tiny bit better than a sugar pill. Remember that the experiments that proved the safety and effectiveness of these drugs were performed by and for their manufacturers and ultimately approved by the Food and Drug Administration (for those of you in the U.S.) based upon those experiments.  You might wonder, what with millions of dollars involved, whether a researcher might be inclined to favor the drug when a judgment is a close call, like when dropping outliers in the data.

The story with herbal remedies is a bit different.  Usually there is some research that suggests a physical effect from one herb or another.  Manufacturers jump on that research and translate the effects to humans even though the initial experiments might have been done on mice or even in a test tube.  These products are usually safe, based upon people eating the base ingredients for years or centuries.  Effectiveness is another story.

Makers of herbal remedies don’t need to prove effectiveness as long as they don’t claim the product will cure anything.  That’s why you see the effects of these supplements described with words like these, from my favorite supplement:

  • boost of daily energy
  • balanced blood pressure levels
  • improved circulation
  • superior heart health
  • healthy HDL, LDL, and triglyceride ratios
  • antioxidant protection
  • support for . . .
  • enhanced energy production

Notice that no diseases are mentioned.  If there are claims to cure something, the Food and Drug Administration will takes steps that can put these firms out of business.

Now, have you ever wondered why many of these marketers send out catalogs that go into all kinds of detail about the effects of these supplements and why testimonials are prominently featured?  Likewise with the ads for drugs.  Well, that’s all to convince us that the supplement or drug really does work.  That, in turn, strengthens the placebo effect.  With a strong placebo effect and just a little real efficacy,  some of these supplements and drugs can do wonders for our health — and that’s a good thing.

Whether you choose to take a drug or a supplement, but sure to do some Google research on the side effects of your chosen therapy.  Some herbal supplements, like drugs,  do have adverse effects.   After you start your therapy, be sure to watch for unpleasant changes in your body.  If something comes up, let your doctor know and ask if you can safely drop the therapy or change to something different.

Doctors don’t generally learn about herbal treatments in school beyond doing some chemical analysis to show that some non-drug has considerable variability from bottle to bottle and a little bit about interactions with drugs.   Nonetheless,  they do know that you have the right to use supplements, so you should keep them informed of what you are taking and when you change things.  If an issue comes up, they will be better able to help.

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