Tag Archives: Alternative Medicine

Why I Take Fake Pills

Here’s a fascinating story from a writer at the Smithsonian who experienced that the placebo effect is engaged even if you KNOW you’re taking a sugar pill.

“I was in grad school training as a psychotherapist,” (Kelley) told me once, “and I came across a study arguing that antidepressants work just as well as psychotherapy. I didn’t mind that so much, because I like psychotherapy and see its value. But later I found another study showing that antidepressants actually work no better than placebos, and that definitely bothered me. Did this mean that psychotherapy was nothing but a placebo? It took me quite a while to consider the reverse, that placebo is a form of psychotherapy. It’s a psychological mechanism that can be used to help people self-heal. That’s when I knew I wanted to learn more.”

It seems that here at Universal Placebos we’re selling ‘open label’ placebos, that is, placebos explicitly labeled as placebos. It’s so nice that science is catching up!

In his research, which includes a wonderful ‘one person experiment’ designed to use placebos in tackling writer’s block, the author interviews Kathryn Tayo Hall, a geneticist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and ‘sheepishly’ admits to the fact that placebos worked for him.

“Brilliant,” she said, and showed me a box of homeopathic pills she takes to help with pain in her arm from an old injury. “My placebo. The only thing that helps.”

“I don’t have to believe in you,” (the author says directly to his placebo pills), “because you’re going to work anyway.”

On Placebos and Depression Drugs

We note an interesting ‘counter narrative’ emerging – that is, scepticism about the commonly held view that drug treatments designed for mood disorders such as depression often engage the Placebo Effect. In this counter-narrative,

“Drug trials don’t show much in the way of classic placebo effects. The rise in placebo responses over the years is more likely due to the supportive factors in drug trials…and increasing problems with enrollment.”

The new finding—no upward trend in placebo responses—is unexpected and certain to be contested. Meanwhile, it stands as a rebuke to a popular narrative. By that account, drug effects had been hyped, expectations soared, and the inflated hopes were reflected in rising placebo response rates.”

This is fine, except the counter-narrative also resonates with challenges about the efficacy of conventional ‘gold-standard’ ‘blind’ ‘placebo controlled’ drug trials, where it has been shown that trials funded by drug companies (who by definition have a vested interest in their outcome) are 30% more likely to return ‘favourable’ results than trials which are not funded in this way. The ‘placebo effect’ might be the design and execution of the trial itself, not the actual function and efficacy of the placebo …!

Read the whole article here.

Emotions, epigenetics, placebos

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A fascinating article on the many levels at which we might work to heal ourselves unconsciously. A quote from Dr Bruce Litpon, author of The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter & Miracles

“The placebo effect should be the subject of major, funded research efforts. If medical researchers could figure out how to leverage the placebo effect, they would hand doctors an efficient, energy-based, side effect-free tool to treat disease. Energy healers say they already have such tools, but I am a scientist, and I believe the more we know about science of the placebo, the better we’ll be able to use it in clinical settings.”

The full article is here: The place of negative and positive emotions in our health.

Placebos in sport

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There’s so much attention right now given to Olympic atheletes’ use of ‘placebo’ rituals and objects, from favourite items of underwear to ancient Chinese ‘cupping’ techniques and herbal supplements.

“Judo gold medalist Kayla Harrison wears the lucky socks that were a gift from her grandmother. Hockey player Alex Danson spins her stick 15 times before each game. Tennis player Rafael Nadal takes alternating sips from two water bottles at every break between games.”

Quartz looks in some depth into the phenomenon.

It’s unpacked further here.

“In sports, it’s a little different in that in the vast majority of cases relying on the placebo effect probably won’t hurt, and in many cases might actually help because of the power of belief. Aside from some potential BO, is it really a problem that an athlete regularly wears the same t-shirt under his uniform to help with on-field success? In fact, savvy coaches regularly use various placebo approaches when trying to help their team with belief — and often these tactics work.”

Legitimising alternatives!? No way! Well … maybe …

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“Britain’s Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust wants to hire a reiki therapist for a hospital in Epping.”

This caused a controversy and a flurry of disgruntled email. BUT …

“If drugs are effective and placebo responses small, this does not matter much. But people tend to turn to alternative medicine for subjective, stress-related conditions such as chronic pain, depression, nausea and fatigue (all problems that can affect cancer patients in treatment). Drugs for these conditions have significant downsides, such as unpleasant side effects and addiction, and placebo responses often account for most of the effect of the drug. So it becomes plausible that compared to popping a pill, a patient might get more relief — and fewer side effects — from an hour with a sympathetic therapist.”