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Research Casts Doubt On Placebo Effect

timothy posted more than 13 years ago | from the take-139-of-these-and-call-me-in-the-a.m. dept.

Science 19

An Anonymous Coward writes: "The NY Times reports the work of two Danish researchers who, after analysing 114 previous medical studies, claim that placebos appear to have no significant effect on people's objective symptoms, despite the prevailing view to the contrary." This is refreshing news -- nice to see conventional wisdom challenged and found lacking. (Hmmm. I wonder if I got the placebo at Pharmaco a few years ago ...)

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19 comments

Re:A friend in need (1)

MrNixon (28945) | more than 13 years ago | (#199809)

Wow... you really are on the wrong site.... slashdot doesn't accept those views :).

placebos are horrible (2)

po_boy (69692) | more than 13 years ago | (#199810)

I'm addicted to placebos.

Sure sign of a decaying civilization (1)

LeeA (89112) | more than 13 years ago | (#199811)

One sure sign of a decaying civilization (according to the old Azimov 'Foundation' series) was the trend of researchers to re-analyize other's work, instead of doing the research themselves...

ya know... (2)

jbridge21 (90597) | more than 13 years ago | (#199812)

Even if the placebo effect isn't a real thing, it still works for me, because I think it's helping somehow!
-----

Re:Double-Edged Sword (1)

gmarceau (119282) | more than 13 years ago | (#199813)

Placebo effects are dealt-with double-blind experiences. Only half of the subjects are given medicine, the other half is given a similar looking, similarly bad-tasting sugar pills. The key to double-blind is that neither the subject nor their examiner-nurses be allowed to know who took which.

Most experiment measures will an improvement from the placebo group. Those are very physical, actual improvements in the medical condition of the patient, independent of the patient's impression. This is expected from psychologically-related medication like placebo sleeping pills. Placebo also make fair pain relievers. Being content about receiving some-kind of treatment releases happiness-neurotransmeters in the brain (the famous endorphines), which double up as a soft pain inhibitor.

Along side, there are also numerous reports of placebo effect on "strong", absolutely non-psychological diseases. Recent developments now generate leads towards explaining such effect. In particular, I know of a research that "a simple general sense of happiness" greatly increases your chances of surviving a stroke. Or maybe more to the point is the recent discovery of nerve channels going from the lower brain to the ganglias - those centers of the immune system. Interesting stuff.

-

Re:Rubbish (2)

supruzr (138432) | more than 13 years ago | (#199814)

I agree. Anybody versed even slightly in applied psychology will tell you that anticipation of effect sensitizes the person to that effect. I'm sure that there are MORE than hundreds of studies that validate psychosomatic effects, of which placebo is one.

But the article isn't saying that the above is not true. The article, to me, and "I Am Not An Expert," suggests that people will be equally sensitive to psychosomatic effects whether they get a sugar pill or not. This says, to me, that you can't study such a thing using placebo data, because there can't be a control group. Inherently, everyone is affected by this phenomenon, even the people that get the real medicine.

I'm not against new ideas, but I believe that when one single study contests uncountable numbers of previous ones, there should be abnormally careful attention paid to the procedure, and abnormal amounts of skepticism as to it's validity. This is the same line of thinking that got polygraph tests admitted without skepticism as substantial evidence in a court of law. If you look into that, you will learn that the "99% accurate" slogan is a far cry from true.

Rubbish (1)

saltyhog (164982) | more than 13 years ago | (#199815)

One study says placebos don't work. Big forking deal. Hundreds of others say they do. Maybe this study casts some doubt, but that's it. I'm not convinced. Not sure why this was either a) written up in the times or b) posted here.

A friend in need (2)

spankfish (167192) | more than 13 years ago | (#199816)

Perhaps placebos are becoming less effective over time as more people start to become aware of them. Faith healing is a placebo too.

--

All in the Head (1)

lord_ashaman (180519) | more than 13 years ago | (#199817)

Placebos have been something which have been descirbed for every psychological problem since their development. Peole with Depression, Anxiety and christ they probalby tried to give them to ppl with terminal illness'. As i see it, there are 3 possiblities to explain this research

1.The Researchers where high on Crack when doing this and wrote down the lotto numbers on teh reaserch paper instead of the ticket

2. The Human body, given the volume that people have recived over the years, is developing an Immunity to Placebo's. THis could be evident by trialing people who's direct relatives took placebos and monitoring their effects. I mean the human body is an organism, and like how virus's are adapting to antibiotics nowadays, so obviously we may start to develop an immuntity to these drugs (after years of abuse i think im becoming immune to the life-extending effects of caffeine!)

3. That maybe, placebos never worked. that this miracle drug simply triggered a self-help switch in the brain. The pills themselves made the person think that this drug would make them less anxious or whatever and the brain reacted tho these thoughts by actually doing what the person wanted, by calming down the sectors of the brain which where mucking up. so simply these pills where just a "ignition spark" to fire up the brains self fixing process.

Just my 1.798 cents

Better that we didn't know.... (1)

FrozedSolid (201777) | more than 13 years ago | (#199818)

I always swore that asprin and assorted over the counter medicines didn't work. Regardless of how many decongestants I took... I was always congested... And my braces never did feel better when I took advil.... But if the shoe fits wear it. So if fake medication works, I'm supposing the same applies.

Double-Edged Sword (1)

man_ls (248470) | more than 13 years ago | (#199819)

A placebo is a double-edged sword. The patient might believe he is receiving real medication and feel better as a result (though why this happens is extremely wierd, because it certainly isn't giving them any real medicine), or, they could think they're getting the placebo and not have anything happen.

As people become more aware that they might not be getting the real thing, the psycological effect is deminished, and only the true medication will work.

Routing and Remote Access Service: Unable to load C:\WINDOWS\System32\iprtrmgr.dll. Service stopped.

Re:Double-Edged Sword (1)

man_ls (248470) | more than 13 years ago | (#199820)

sorry about the error message at the end there...it apparently was contained in my clipboard adn I accidently stuck it in while I was typing, hten submitted it.

Re:Placebo effect * 2? (2)

Dancin_Santa (265275) | more than 13 years ago | (#199821)

No, the patients really thought they were getting better. It's that doctors thought the patients got better because they thought the medications were what they thought.

Now it's clear that what the doctors thought turns out to not have been what they thought they thought.

Dancin Santa

Placebo effect * 2? (3)

anon757 (265661) | more than 13 years ago | (#199822)

So, they're saying the placebo effect is actually a placebo effect? That people didnt think they were getting better, they only thought that they thought they were getting better?

Re:All in the Head (1)

Ancient Eye (300895) | more than 13 years ago | (#199823)

Umm, is this a facetious post of some sort?
*shrug* maybe I just don't get it
Or maybe you didn't figure out what a placebo was before posting... *shrug again*

Homeopaths Know (1)

MulluskO (305219) | more than 13 years ago | (#199824)

The more deluded [yahoo.com] the dose, the more effective the drug.

Placebos are the most effective drugs known to man! Ask any homeopathic doctor. Because they contain nothing, they can be used to treat everything!

Re:A friend in need (1)

MulluskO (305219) | more than 13 years ago | (#199825)

What is the deal with that Hinn guy? He's always grabbing people's chins causing them to fall to the floor. Where can I learn to do the vulcan chin lock?

Re:Better that we didn't know.... (1)

MulluskO (305219) | more than 13 years ago | (#199826)

When I had braces my dentist prescribed Tylenol With Codine. You should try it.

As for the stomach-bleeders, I have to wonder if tapeworms cause a person to have a higher tolerance for pain. Many pain medications function by inducing bleeding of the stomach.

Placebos often work... (2)

kypper (446750) | more than 13 years ago | (#199827)

when people are hypochondriacs.
Since something like cancer is definately NOT the product of the mind, sugar pills sure as heck aren't going to help.

The mind and body can only do so much. That's why we have medicine. (and diseases, for that matter)

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