Beta

Slashdot: News for Nerds

×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Placebos Work -- Even Without Deception

CmdrTaco posted more than 2 years ago | from the smoke-and-mirrors dept.

Medicine 430

An anonymous reader writes "For most of us, the 'placebo effect' is synonymous with the power of positive thinking; it works because you believe you're taking a real drug. But a new study rattles this assumption. Researchers at Harvard Medical School's Osher Research Center and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have found that placebos work even when administered without the seemingly requisite deception. The study was published on December 22 in PLoS ONE."

cancel ×

430 comments

Homeopathic Medicine (5, Insightful)

Sonny Yatsen (603655) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651798)

If deception isn't necessary for placebos to work, does this mean the homeopathic medicine advocates can admit it's bullshit now?

Re:Homeopathic Medicine (5, Insightful)

happylight (600739) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651856)

If it works, how can it be bullshit?

Re:Homeopathic Medicine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34651888)

Well, Homeopathic medicine believes that the more diluted a sample is in water, the more powerful it becomes, and... well... bull shit has been in the water supply at some point, so the more you try and filter it out, the stronger it becomes.

Duh.

Re:Homeopathic Medicine (5, Informative)

Sonny Yatsen (603655) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651890)

The theory is bullshit. They dilute a compound until they're essentially giving somebody water and claiming that the water will have some memory of some compound being dissolved in it and that will cure people of their illnesses. Placebos might work, but the theory is pure bunkum.

Re:Homeopathic Medicine (2)

MoonBuggy (611105) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652052)

"They dilute a compound until they're actually giving somebody water..."

A minor distinction, perhaps, but one worth making. The majority of homoeopathic 'medicines' contain literally zero active ingredient.

Re:Homeopathic Medicine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34652124)

The products that I know about are essentially alcohol. My soon to be ex-wife raves about homeopathy. The product that she sells is a spray bottle where you spray twice under the tongue. You do this three times a day.

Re:Homeopathic Medicine (1)

Sonny Yatsen (603655) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652158)

Hey, if I can get liquor 3 times a day, I'd be pretty happy myself.

Re:Homeopathic Medicine (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651956)

Because it doesn't work.

What they are referring to when they say 'work' is that people believe they feel better, not that they are actually better. Or in the posters case, effective.

It's bullshit as any non-subjective treatment.

Re:Homeopathic Medicine (1, Informative)

macurmudgeon (900466) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652096)

No, homeopathy may be bogus, but the placebo effect is not just bullshit. Actually with the placebo effect people don't just feel better but get the same results they would have had they had the real medicine. It goes even further than that. There are well documented instances of cancer remission with placebo pills and relief from angina with sham operations.

Nope (3, Informative)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652196)

No, you clearly don't understand the placebo effect.

Caner remission can happen with no pills medication at all. It's rare, but it happens. So Yes we would expect to see some remission from taking a non active ingredient pill, but in no case is it about the rates expected for 'spontaneous' remission.

EVERY test I have read about(100s) regard placebo effects show no real effect. Whether that placebo was administered by pill, fake surgery, acupuncturist, chiropractor, or prayer.

People believe they are better, they 'feel' better but when actually tested they don't actually perform better.

Look. I can read through a phone book, claim my magic powers heal people, and someone in the phone book will have gotten better. Does that mean I have magic powers, or their body was just able to heal itself?

Re:Nope (1)

arb phd slp (1144717) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652252)

cf. chemotherapy, which makes the cancer go away, but makes the patient feel worse.

Sometimes "cure" means different things to different people.

Re:Homeopathic Medicine (1)

unique_parrot (1964434) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651966)

I don't believe it would work for me... *send via Killer NIC M1 network card* ;)

Re:Homeopathic Medicine (3, Insightful)

xystren (522982) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652022)

Because the uninformed equate that placebo effect = not effective... where they should be thinking, placebo effect = effective without an identified factor/cause.

Honestly, if I have the choice between a placebo effect or some medication that has major side-effects (ie: damage to the liver/kidney), I will take the placebo. If one can elicit a placebo effect without the dangers of medication side-effects, why is that a bad thing?

For example, morphine does exactly zero for me with regards to pain management. When I had a pooched back (bulged lower lumbar), it did absolutely nothing, yet a regular ibuprofen did more. I tell you, I would have welcomed a placebo effect. All the morphine did was give me a headache and make my pi$$ stink like a S.o.B.

Cheers
Xyst.

Re:Homeopathic Medicine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34652082)

Yea, there's really no chance they gave you morphine for a bulged disc, these days they pretty much won't give you morphine unless you're dying. And if they had given you morphine, it would have done something for your pain unless you have specific genetic abnormalities.

Re:Homeopathic Medicine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34652274)

Depends on where you are. My wife got morphine for headache at the emergency dept. once. It was at a major uni medical center in the U.S. We were both quite happy because it did help relieve the pain that did not respond to anything else (kid you not). The headache was likely a complication from spinal anaesthesia.

Re:Homeopathic Medicine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34651874)

If you use that argument, you also need to question validity of traditional medications - how much of it is the drug and how much of it is a placebo effect? Maybe drug companies need to admit they are bullshit also

Re:Homeopathic Medicine (2)

Turnpike Lad (1006707) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651898)

Except that drug trials involve tests against placebos as a matter of course.

Re:Homeopathic Medicine (4, Interesting)

Scubaraf (1146565) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651932)

But he has a point. Several psychiatric drugs have been shown to be no better or worse than placebo. We didn't hear about it because these negative trials were suppressed by the drug companies. They only published the positive ones - do enough studies and one will work!

Even the open placebo used in this study appeared as good as the leading therapy for IBS (although they weren't compared head-to-head).

Re:Homeopathic Medicine (0)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652212)

So there are some mysterious studies no one every published but someone how you know about them?

Sounds like you are just making up an excuse so you don't have to take your pills.

Re:Homeopathic Medicine (1)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651904)

If deception isn't necessary for placebos to work, does this mean the homeopathic medicine advocates can admit it's bullshit now?

Arguably, if it works as well as what modern medicine is doing, is it any more bullshit than that is?

I'm not advocating for homeopathy, but from what I understand ... in some cases modern medicine would consider itself doing well if they could reach the levels of relief they get with placebos using actual medicine.

And, as someone I used to know in sales used to say ... it's not a lie if you believe it. :-P Homeopathy may not be perceived as a "lie" by its practitioners.

Re:Homeopathic Medicine (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652054)

I'm not advocating for homeopathy, but from what I understand ... in some cases modern medicine would consider itself doing well if they could reach the levels of relief they get with placebos using actual medicine.

A drug cannot get approval from the FDA if it is no better than a placebo. In many cases it must demonstrate in clinical trials that it has superior results to not only a placebo, but, also, to any existing drug which is used to treat the problem.

Re:Homeopathic Medicine (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34652156)

Please explain, if you know, how phenylephrine was approved for use as an alternate to pseudoephedrine.

Re:Homeopathic Medicine (1)

monoqlith (610041) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652150)

Arguably, if it works as well as what modern medicine is doing, is it any more bullshit than that is?

Yes. While I agree that modern medicine is by no means the end of the discussion (it fails a lot, after all) I still believe that the scientific method it at least purports to follow is instrumental for discovering new medicines and applying them safely and effectively.

it's not a lie if you believe it.

I respectfully disagree. The power of positive thinking isn't going to heal a tumor, a scorching case of chlamydia, or schizophrenia. In other words, there is a huge and very meaningful difference between thinking you're feeling better and actually having treated the cause of the pain. It's time that we - collectively, as human beings - put magical thinking aside and start to own up to the fact that we can't simply will away the misfortunes that befall us.

When we talk about the placebo effect, what we are really saying is that, when we are sick, there are usually two causes to our pain that can function independently of one another. The first is the actual, organic cause - which we can't treat simply by adopting certain beliefs or thinking differently. And the second is psychic pain, which we can.

Re:Homeopathic Medicine (1)

clone52431 (1805862) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652260)

The power of positive thinking isn't going to heal a tumor, a scorching case of chlamydia, or schizophrenia. In other words, there is a huge and very meaningful difference between thinking you're feeling better and actually having treated the cause of the pain.

Don’t underestimate the human body’s capacity to heal itself.

Sure, we assume that it all happens unconsciously... you don’t have to think about it to make a clot form when you’re cut, or for the white blood cells to start attacking foreign cells that got in, or for the cut to start healing itself under the scab. But do we actually know that our mental health doesn’t affect the process in any way? No, we don’t know that.

Re:Homeopathic Medicine (1)

TMB (70166) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652262)

Yes it is. It's not that modern medicine doesn't make mistakes, it's that it learns from them. If a treatment is demonstrated repeatedly to do no better than a placebo, or even worse to do harm, it stops being used. Homeopathy says that if it doesn't work for you, you're doing it wrong.

Re:Homeopathic Medicine (2)

matthewncohen (1166231) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651910)

I think you misunderstand the homeopathic point of view to believe that this weakens the legitimacy of their approach at all.

I'm not an expert in the field, but my understanding is that Homeopathy is based on the idea that there is a fundamental vital force that is responsible for overall well-being, which can be strengthened by taking particular concoctions that resonate with this force in the person. Maybe these placebos inadvertently had a homeopathic quality that was helpful for IBS sufferers.

Re:Homeopathic Medicine (3, Insightful)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652014)

TFA: data on placebos is so compelling that many American physicians (one study estimates 50 percent) secretly give placebos to unsuspecting patients.

This isn't "ethically questionable" as TFA posits, it's a GOOD thing, especially with viral diseases like colds and flu. People insist on antibiotics, but antibiotics are no better than placebos on viral infections, and placebos don't cause antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria to evolve.

Re:Homeopathic Medicine (2)

wondafucka (621502) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652080)

If deception isn't necessary for placebos to work, does this mean the homeopathic medicine advocates can admit it's bullshit now?

Wait!? Doesn't that mean that homeopathic bullshit works?

Re:Homeopathic Medicine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34652208)

Even if you know it's sugar, subconsciously you won't. Subconsciously you'll know that every time you take a pill, or get a shot, you'll feel better.

unlike lazy Americans (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34651802)

just saying!

Re:unlike lazy Americans (1)

Rijnzael (1294596) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652224)

Did you mean to say unlike lazy people in general?

Same Deception (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34651814)

The lack of misinformation doesn't negate the plethora of ignorance - their probably thinking "they're just saying this is a placebo to test if it's really working".

Re:Same Deception (4, Insightful)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651918)

Moreover, I'm confused how on Earth they would manage to test something like this.

If you tell them it's a placebo, doesn't that, in a way, make it no longer a placebo? How can you observe a positive effect from placebos if they aren't even placebos anymore?

There's any number of things that could cause the "Positive thinking". They might be glad their Doctor is honest with them. They might like the sugar they put in them. They might be lessed stress knowing its not 100% necessary to get up at 6 in the morning to make sure you pop your placebo in time.

I'll read the full Article after this cup of coffee. I Can never seem to keep focused before having a cup of Decaf.

Re:Same Deception (1)

Sigspat (1682152) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652170)

Well done sir! Your post made me feel better than my daily session of Healing Touch therapy.

Re:Used to be called "Magick" (1)

PraiseBob (1923958) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652244)

I think this quote from the article is an interesting explanation:

"Nevertheless," says Kaptchuk, "these findings suggest that rather than mere positive thinking, there may be significant benefit to the very performance of medical ritual. "

Sure it may be a sugar pill, but the people in the study are focusing on their disease, considering their symptoms, actively wanting the symptoms to lessen, and performing a "pill ritual". And they are doing all of this, twice a day.

Compare this to the control group, which basically only thinks about the issue when symptoms flares up.

It's amusing to me that the first comparison I thought of was Aleister Crowley, and others in the ritual magick field, who basically advocate writing your desires on a piece of paper and focusing on it once or twice a day, as the way to perform a "spell".

Re:Same Deception (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34652264)

1) tell them you are giving them a placbo to test how well a "real" drug works.

2) They wanting the testing to be as good as possible will try to feel if they are getting better without the "real" drug

3) User will feel better because they want to feel better to test the drug.

4) Placebo works.

findings misunderstood (2)

ziggyzaggy (552814) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651832)

Study proves sugar pills alleviate IBS in 60% of patients!

Re:findings misunderstood (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651924)

Funny.
I worked with a guy who had IBS. It's no laughing matter - in fact it's quite smelly. He either burped or farted every minute and I felt sorry for him (and glad there was a wall between us). There were very few things he could eat due to his digestive/bowel disorder.

Re:findings misunderstood (1)

DarkOx (621550) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652100)

I realize its a serious condition and I hope you don't think I was trying to make light of IBS, I was not trying to do that. I was just pointing out a potential flaw I see in the study and hey not often but things we thought were very complex occasional have really simple solutions like a little bit of sugar a few times daily.

Re:findings misunderstood (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652152)

"Study proves sugar pills alleviate IBS in 60% of patients!" - zigzaggy

"I realize its a serious condition and I hope you don't think I was trying to make light of IBS," - DarkOx

So, did you just out your alt account?

Re:findings misunderstood (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652166)

Wait a minute.... in another post, seven minutes prior to this you posted:

"A spoonful of sugar helps the irritable bowel syndrome go away..... bowel syndrome go away..... bowel syndrome go away..... ;-)"

http://science.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=1922774&cid=34651852 [slashdot.org]

Re:findings misunderstood (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652220)

I said zigzaggy's joke was funny.

I await ... (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651834)

... big pharma going to market with the 'New, extra strength placebo'.

Re:I await ... (2)

Jon Abbott (723) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651882)

A few years ago I made this [monogon.org] image of a cough syrup bottle with the name "Placebo" written across the front. I never thought this would actually go to market until now. ;^)

Re:I await ... (2, Funny)

oldspewey (1303305) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651894)

I'm waiting for big pharma to patent placebos and to start suing makers of generics.

Re:I await ... (4, Informative)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651968)

You do realize they almost all of the 'natural' remedies are made by big pharma, right? As is most vitamins.

Which kind of removes the 'Big Pharma' argument.

Surely everybody has heard of the placebo effect.. (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651838)

So they expect it to still work. And because they expect it to work it does.

Re:Surely everybody has heard of the placebo effec (1)

omnichad (1198475) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651848)

You beat me to it - exactly what I was going to say.

Re:Surely everybody has heard of the placebo effec (1)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652004)

So they expect it to still work. And because they expect it to work it does.

You know, if you could induce the placebo effect like that, it would be fairly astounding because the placebo effect is often as effective (or more) than the medicine. I suspect it would also turn modern medicine on its ear. "You're better because you want to be better" becomes something for some pretty serious investigation.

Part of me wonders if the patients understood this -- they were described as "like sugar pills", and it said placebo on the pill -- but it's possible that they just didn't realize that they were literally being given nothing whatsoever in terms of medicine.

This part intrigues me ... "these findings suggest that rather than mere positive thinking, there may be significant benefit to the very performance of medical ritual" ... that would seem to imply that the human brain has a far greater capacity for fixing itself than Western medicine believes, no? At least, it might. At which point, prayer and dance have as much "medical" validity as actual medicine -- at least, for some conditions; if I'm in a car accident, I still want to see a trauma surgeon if need be.

Heck, leeching was considered medically useless for a long time too. And then there's that whole maggots [nationalgeographic.com] thing.

I think the underlying mechanism for this (or at least explanation for it) is fairly interesting.

False deception (4, Insightful)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651844)

A guy dressed in a white lab coat, doing an experiment, gives you some medicine and tells you: "This is a placebo. Trust me, there is no active component of any kind.". Then, as soon as you swallow the medicine he, and three other lab coated investigators watch you attentively for an hour, asking if you feel strange in any way.

What would be the chances of you believing them and having no doubts about the placebo nature of what you had taken?

Re:False deception (1)

MoonBuggy (611105) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652088)

The same theory could actually work for a marketed product. Adverts (truthfully) saying that "In a study, 78% of participants felt better after taking our product" or some such, combined with the general population's underlying trust in the fact that "they wouldn't sell it if it didn't do something" could well be enough. As others mentioned, it seems to work for homoeopathy!

Re:False deception (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652094)

What would be the chances of you believing them and having no doubts about the placebo nature of what you had taken?

I dunno. In this strictly hypothetical situation, do I have a coin or a die in my possession?

Re:False deception (1)

macurmudgeon (900466) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652118)

Absolutely, this was not a well conducted trial. The labeling on the bottle and the structure of the experiment both remove the blind portion. The placebo wasn't so much the pill as the structure of the study. Somebody had too narrow a definition of placebo.

To summarize: (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651852)

A spoonful of sugar helps the irritable bowel syndrome go away..... bowel syndrome go away..... bowel syndrome go away..... ;-)

Perhaps the sugar is not as "neutral" as the scientists originally assumed. Or maybe Americans have been so programmed by TV ads to think a pill, any pill, will cure you of your ailments.

Medical ritual, or just loneliness? (4, Interesting)

Lilith's Heart-shape (1224784) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651854)

The article suggests at the end that patients who responded to the placebos despite knowing that they were taking placebos might be benefiting from a "medical ritual", but I suspect it simpler than that. I suspect that the patients were just receiving some sort of psychosomatic benefit from having an actual human being pay attention to them for a little while. I can't prove it, but I suspect that a lot of modern chronic illnesses are psychosomatic and are a consequence of loneliness.

Re:Medical ritual, or just loneliness? (3, Insightful)

Scubaraf (1146565) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651982)

Bingo!

But that's a huge point to prove. As obvious as it may sound, it's evidence that validating patients and their concerns may be among the best things we can do as physicians. It's absolutely not billable, so many docs don't do it - instead focusing on seeing the next person quickly or doing another billable procedure.

Maybe with more studies aimed at understanding the effect of doctor-patient interactions, we'll start reimbursing MD's for what works and patients find valuable.

Re:Medical ritual, or just loneliness? (1)

Lilith's Heart-shape (1224784) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652214)

It's absolutely not billable, so many docs don't do it

I'm not a doctor (I just play one on my Wii), but how can this not be billable. Isn't it at least half of what a psychologist doing therapy provides for his/her patients?

Re:Medical ritual, or just loneliness? (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651994)

It has been shown over and over again that the ritual has a stronger placebo effect.

This also happens with acupuncture. If you take sham acupuncture by someone who is not attentive, and 'cold' to the patient you have less of a placebo effect then someone who gets sham acupuncture where the person performing the ritual is 'warm' to the patient.

Of course, no actual benefits happens.

Re:Medical ritual, or just loneliness? (1)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652110)

I can't prove it, but I suspect that a lot of modern chronic illnesses are psychosomatic and are a consequence of loneliness.

I can't speak to all chronic illness ... but I've know at least two people with IBS. Trust me, loneliness wasn't the cause of it in either case. Milk, however, in one case had observable and, er, 'dramatic' results in a very short time.

It's easy to dismiss this stuff as purely psychosomatic, I'm just not sure that is always (or even mostly) the case. In its early stages, Multiple Sclerosis is pretty hard to diagnose and can be chalked up to all sorts of things.

You have to start with the premise that, generally speaking, people actually experience this stuff, even if you can't explain why.

Re:Medical ritual, or just loneliness? (1)

clone52431 (1805862) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652178)

The fact that the symptoms are real doesn’t rule out the possibility that their cause is completely mental. And that applies even if the symptoms are clearly exacerbated by real physical stimuli (such as milk).

Re:Medical ritual, or just loneliness? (1)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652282)

And that applies even if the symptoms are clearly exacerbated by real physical stimuli (such as milk).

In this case, the only reason I knew about the milk is someone (as a rather cruel prank) spiked something with dairy and said it didn't have any. Thirty minutes later, there was rather a mad sprint.

I'm disinclined to believe that something you aren't aware of can lead to a psychosomatic response.

Just sayin'.

One small study (1)

pinkj (521155) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651860)

This seems hardly worth mentioning. It was one small study done for amusement. No earth has been shattered here.

Re:One small study (1)

Delusion_ (56114) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652008)

There have been other studies that have shown that the placebo effect works better when people are aware of the placebo effect, and others which have demonstrated that it works better not only when people are aware of it, but when they're aware of the placebo effect and know they're taking one. So, effectively, the same sort of study as this.

Just because it's a new idea to you doesn't mean it's new, trivial, or hardly worth mentioning.

Not necessarily without deception. (4, Informative)

Thornae (53316) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651876)

From the actual study [plosone.org] , the wording used to present the placebos to the patients seems to have been very carefully chosen to be utterly truthful, yet implicitly deceptive:

...open-label placebo pills presented as “placebo pills made of an inert substance, like sugar pills, that have been shown in clinical studies to produce significant improvement in IBS symptoms through mind-body self-healing processes”

Re:Not necessarily without deception. (1)

Lambeco (1705140) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651980)

While this is still incredibly interesting, that's a really valid point. It's like you get your foot in the door (in previous trials) by lying about what the sugar pill does, then you can be completely truthful simply by referring to the positive results of the original lie. It all boils down to what you believe. I would say that this new study confirms the assumption about belief rather than rattling it.

Re:Not necessarily without deception. (1)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652132)

There's nothing deceptive at all. The patients were told it was a placebo. They were told it was inert. They were told that there's a placebo effect whereby people taking placebos have shown improvement just by mind-body self-healing processes.

Re:Not necessarily without deception. (1)

Ginger Unicorn (952287) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652280)

Placebos "heal" nothing. They simply induce pyschological and neurological phenomina that reduce or remove the perception of pain. A placebo is not going to send your cancer into remission, or repair your back injury. Using the phrase "self-healing" is deceptive.

I can relate... (5, Interesting)

dejanc (1528235) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651892)

I have allergies each spring. After I tried several different medications, I finally found one which advertises as "non-drowsy" - essentially a low dose of loratadine. I started taking it and yeah, it both worked and didn't make me feel sleepy all day long.

A couple of months later, I talked to a friend who is a doctor, and he told me (not knowing that I take that medication) that clinical studies for the medication showed that it worked for about 50% of people who took the drug, as well as for around 50% of people who were on placebo (I can't remember if it was 50, but the percentage was about the same). I read some more upon it, and the conclusion most knowledgeable people made was that the dosage of loratadine in the drug is too low, and that it works only as a placebo.

Knowing what I know, I still take that medication and it still helps me. Perhaps the low dosage really works for me, but more likely, I keep being fooled by a placebo I know about...

Why medicine is still an art... (1)

Scubaraf (1146565) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651896)

This is fascinating to me.It proves how much we don't know about how people work.

As a physician I have on several occasions wanted to prescribe a placebo, knowing that time would be the best remedy and that simply feeling like the patient is doing something might improve their outlook immediately. Of course, I consider that misleading and unethical. To know that it might work even if you are up front about it is amazing. I'm not sure that it would work outside of a clinical trial though. I'd love to know how/if it really works.

Several possibilities -

1) Just a statistical fluke - it won't be born out in repeat studies.
2) Specific only to disorders like IBS which has a highly variable course, subjective symptoms, and is hard to diagnose. This isn't going to work with leukemia.
3) An example of "active" intervention where a person feels like they are being helped to help themselves even if they cognitively don't believe it. It's what underlies the "healing touch" in medicine and maybe even the power of meditation/prayer (praying for yourself that is, not being in a coma and having others pray for you).

I also don't know how they got the study past the scientific review board, which I thought, would laugh them out of the room.

Re:Why medicine is still an art... (2)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652202)

I also don't know how they got the study past the scientific review board, which I thought, would laugh them out of the room.

Well, it's not like he endangered the placebo group any more than the control group.

I should think it would be an interesting conversation ... "I'm going to do nothing with one group, and tell the other group I'm giving them a placebo and then I'm gonna see what happens".

Fun job though, medical studies without medicine. :-P

Hmmm (1)

zabby39103 (1354753) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651900)

If placebos are proven to work, are they really placebos? ;-). Maybe we should start calling it a bottle of psychosomatic medication.

I think having attention paid to you by a doctor perhaps helps too.

Re:Hmmm (1)

zethreal (982453) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652018)

If they start calling them that, the price will go way up. Just think about how much they could charge for a pill that cures just about everything!

Re:Hmmm (1)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652204)

I think having attention paid to you by a doctor perhaps helps too.

The people in the control arm of this study were also having attention paid to them by doctors.

I feel better already! (5, Funny)

boristdog (133725) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651926)

I'm cured by just reading about these amazing placebos!

Nothing new here - and they don't 'work' (3, Informative)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651934)

This is known information, and I don't understand why the Dr. was surprised by the result.

A placebo effect* doesn't fix anything,ever. It makes people feel better subjectively. When you couple that with things that getting better in a few days on their own. people start thinking they 'cured' them, when in fact it was just the bodies normal process.

*there are different types. Depending on the invasiveness of the fake treatment.

Re:Nothing new here - and they don't 'work' (1)

imakemusic (1164993) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652174)

It makes people feel better subjectively.

Is there an objective measurement of a persons feeling of wellness?

And if there is, does it matter? No-one else can feel the patient's discomfort.

Doing something makes people feel better (1)

clone52431 (1805862) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651938)

Doing something makes people feel better... even when what they’re doing is completely useless... and even when they know it.

And when it’s something that even the laziest person can do (popping a pill), it’s an all-around win.

"other outcome measures" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34651950)

"For a three-week period, the patients were monitored. By the end of the trial, nearly twice as many patients treated with the placebo reported adequate symptom relief as compared to the control group (59 percent vs. 35 percent). Also, on other outcome measures, patients taking the placebo doubled their rates of improvement to a degree roughly equivalent to the effects of the most powerful IBS medications."

So if not symptom relief, what would the other outcome measures be improving? Any help? Simply better-than-adequate symptom relief? Does this need to be worded so vaguely?

RadioLab's placebo episode (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34651970)

wow, I just listened to this RadioLab last night on my way home from work:

http://www.radiolab.org/2007/may/17/

Or maybe sugar-pills treat IBS? (2)

DarkOx (621550) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651974)

What about the possibility, I know it sounds crazy, but what if sugar pill is actually an effective treatment for IBS. Seems like they need to use the same placebo on test groups with other conditions to eliminate that possibility.

Re:Or maybe sugar-pills treat IBS? (1)

Even on Slashdot FOE (1870208) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652024)

But what would the doctors use instead? Flour pills?

Re:Or maybe sugar-pills treat IBS? (1)

clone52431 (1805862) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652126)

Empty gel caps...

I wish... (1)

DubThree (1963844) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651978)

... I could find a doctor to prescribe me some placebo narcotics.

Re:I wish... (1)

imakemusic (1164993) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652188)

No problem. I have just sent you some telepathically. You should start tripping in about 5 minutes.

Placebos never work. Never. (1)

ciscon (107483) | more than 2 years ago | (#34651998)

Placebos never work, by definition.

"Something of no intrinsic remedial value that is used to appease or reassure another."

Re:Placebos never work. Never. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34652050)

The thing is, it seems that appeasing and reassuring have intrinsic remedial value, and therefore that definition is contradictory.

Placebo vs No Treatment at all (2)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652010)

After reading the slashdot summary, I got to wondering - do Placebos actually "work" or is it simply that the patients would get better all by themselves (immune system and other self-healing mechanisms in the body)? So, I did a few seconds of googling "placebo vs no treatment", and came upon a paper online at the NIH website:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12535498 [nih.gov]

The author of that paper concludes, "There was no evidence that placebo interventions in general have clinically important effects."

If the healing happens a certain percentage of the time regardless of whether treatment is even administred, then it makes perfect sense that placebo would work that same percentage of the time, even if people didn't believe they were being treated - e.g. "belief" has nothing to do with recovery - that is, it's very possible, and that NIH paper appears to confirm the hypothesis, that with "placebo effect", the conscious mind plays no role in the improvements witnessed.

Just because a subject is told a pill is fake... (1)

doug141 (863552) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652020)

doesn't mean they don't suspect it might be real and they were lied to.

Of course it worked (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652032)

The placebo effect isn't based on the belief that it's medicine, it's based on the belief that it will work. The patient takes the pills because even though they're just sugar pills, their doctor says they will help anyway. A trained medical person believes they will get better taking them. So they believe it too. So they get better.

The doctor could probably save the patient a few calories and some trouble if they just lightly hit the patient on the forehead with the heel of their hand yelling "By the power of Hippocrates I declare you healed".

Science news cycle (1)

Digana (1018720) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652048)

The article doesn't say exactly what the summary says. This is a clear case of Science news cycle [phdcomics.com] .

Perhaps it's the water? (1)

flnca (1022891) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652062)

People generally don't drink enough clear, fresh water. Often, when they're taking a pill it's the only circumstance they're doing so. Perhaps that's the reason why even placebos work.

Placebo effect by assumption. (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652074)

I'll believe it works without the deception if it works with people taking them by finding the pills in the street.

When a doctor hands you a pill, you ASSUME he is doing it for a reason and to help you. Thus the deception is still there.

That said, I wish it was easier to get sugarpills I'd love to screw with friends with bottles of "actual prescription" penis enlargement pills.. NO really dude, they work!

Um.... (1, Interesting)

ilsaloving (1534307) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652076)

If the placebo works, doesn't that mean it's not a placebo?

Re:Um.... (1)

ilsaloving (1534307) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652180)

Sorry, forgot to plant my tongue in my cheek after typing that.

Re:Um.... (1)

gparent (1242548) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652200)

Only if you don't understand the definition of a placebo.

Yeah but (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34652108)

thye were being treated by doctors. Try the same thing, except with Cheney dispensing the pills and see what happens

Is This Just Stupidity at Play? (0)

thepainguy (1436453) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652140)

Perhaps some people are just too stupid to know what "placebo" means. They just think it's another goofy brand name.

When it's time to, you know, but you're having trouble, you know, try Placebo.

Reminds me of the Pirin tablets from The Birdcage.

"Drinking beer is slimming." (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652154)

I won't lie and suggest there's any kind of supporting evidence for that statement. I am merely stating it in a confident and authoritative manner as a service to beer lovers everywhere.

Drink up, and think about what I have told you.

I won't insult your intelligence by asking you to to believe that drinking beer is slimming, I simply ask you to keep the notion in mind whenever you have a drink. It is the mere presence of this idea in your mind as you drink that does you good, not your belief nor any properties inherent in beer itself.

Fake disease, fake treatment. (1)

Azadre (632442) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652226)

It's like the recent NEJM article that stated tai chi is useful in treating fibromyalgia. Some people just feel better when they feel they're receiving treatment.

Insensitive Clods (2)

decipher_saint (72686) | more than 2 years ago | (#34652258)

I'm addicted to placebos!

Load More Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...