Friday, July 17, 2009

Is the Placebo Effect Real?

I recently completed reading two books that discuss the Placebo effect. Predictably Irrational by Daniel Ariely and 13 Things that Don't Make Sense by Michael Brooks. Both books devote almost a full chapter to the topic of Placebo. "A placebo effect occurs when a treatment or medication with no therapeutic value (a placebo) is administered to a patient and the patient's symptoms improve. The patient believes and expects that the treatment is going to work, therefore it does. The placebo effect is also a factor to some degree in clinically effective therapies, and explains why patients respond better than others to treatment despite similar symptoms and illnesses." (Enote.com 2006).

Both authors cite studies which show or demonstrate the existence of this effect. Ariely even ties the price of a medicine to how well the placebo works. High price aspirin works better than discounted aspirin as a placebo. I don't think anyone denies the existence of the power of placebo.

In the end you can be assured the Placebo effect is real and does work in some cases. It may be psychological or even biological through our mind that it works. It seems to work well for control of pain for some. There are even cases where placebo surgeries worked.

I don't want my doctor handing out placebo's instead of medicine to control some medical issues. Also the effectiveness of most medicines are tested in studies against placebo's and real medicines work better than the placebo's or they would not be FDA approved. If you suffer from diabetes you definitely would not benefit from an insulin placebo. In fact you could die without proper medicine. The idea that we can will ourselves to better health has some merit, but has many limitations.

The placebo effect does not make sense and also is irrational in that it does work. Perhaps many of the studies succeeded to show a true placebo effect because experimenters tipped their hand or willed one groups success better than another. Experimentation is not without its flaws.


Sources:
"Placebo Effect." Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. Gale Cengage, 2006. eNotes.com. 2006. 17 Jul, 2009 placebo-effect>
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