Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired

Strategies and alternatives for coping with fibromyalgia, bipolar disorder and other chronic illnesses

The Placebo Effect: Do We Care Why it Works, as Long as it Does?

Posted by wendyburnett on January 7, 2010

Placebo (definition) – any dummy medical treatment; originally, a medicinal preparation having no specific pharmacological activity against the patient’s illness or complaint given solely for the psychophysiological effects of the treatment; more recently, a dummy treatment administered to the control group in a controlled clinical trial in order that the specific and nonspecific effects of the experimental treatment can be distinguished.

Placebo Effect – any effect that seems to be a consequence of taking a placebo, the change is usually beneficial and is assumed to result from the person’s faith in the treatment or preconceptions about what the substance was supposed to do.

I have a question for you. If you have migraines 3 times a week and start taking feverfew capsules to prevent them, do you REALLY care whether the reduction is caused by the feverfew or the placebo effect if you start only having one a month? If it works, does it matter WHY it works?

Isn’t feeling better, having less pain, a good thing no matter what the cause is? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and doing a lot of research on different types of “Alternative Medicine.” Since I don’t have access to prescription medications any more, I’ve been looking for other ways to treat my fibromyalgia symptoms; trying things like herbs, aromatherapy, stress reduction, etc.; and I’ve found some things that help me.

So here I am, going along my merry way; drinking catnip tea to help me sleep, and ginger tea to reduce my pain and inflammation, adding nutmeg to my food to reduce my depression; and someone says, “You know, that stuff only helps because you BELIEVE it does, not because there’s anything in it that does any good. It’s all the PLACEBO EFFECT.”  Hmmm, that made me stop and think.

I’ve done my reading, checked on possible side effects and interactions between the things I put into and on my body, checked the research when I could find some, and tried tiny amounts to see how my body would react before I added something new. (By the way, if herbs don’t have any therapeutic effects or active ingredients, why is there so much information available on possible side effects and interactions? Even the National Institute on Health has a section for herbs now.) I’ve experimented, and these things make me feel better. Do I really care whether they make me feel better because they’re providing an active ingredient that biochemically reacts with my body or because I THINK they’ll make me feel better?  No, I don’t think I do, but the question brought up some other interesting questions.

(NOTE: This is just an example. I am not suggesting that you replace your blood pressure medication with celery.)

If I eat celery to reduce my blood pressure, and my blood pressure drops by 10 points, does that 10 point reduction have less of an effect on my health if it’s caused by the placebo effect rather than by a biochemical reaction? Does a 10 point reduction that’s caused by taking a prescription medication reduce the stress on my heart more than a 10 point reduction caused because I THINK the celery will reduce my blood pressure?

If I drink a cup of catnip tea before bed because I think it will help me rest better and wake up with more energy, does it matter whether it works because of a biochemical interaction with my body or the placebo effect when I DO wake up feeling more rested and energetic?

I don’t think it does. I think that the effect is much more important than the reason behind the effect, and if drinking catnip tea makes me feel more rested and energetic; or eating celery reduces my blood pressure, I don’t really care WHY it does it. (Besides, I’ve never woken up with a medication hangover from drinking tea, or gotten woozy from eating a vegetable, and I surely have from taking medications.)

So what do you think? Does it make a difference why you feel better, as long as you do?

(None of the information/opinion provided in this post is intended as medical advice. If you are interested in trying alternative therapies, you should consult a qualified practitioner.)

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Advertisements

4 Responses to “The Placebo Effect: Do We Care Why it Works, as Long as it Does?”

  1. Adam_Y said

    any effect that seems to be a consequence of taking a placebo, the change is usually beneficial and is assumed to result from the person’s faith in the treatment or preconceptions about what the substance was supposed to do.

    That is not the right definition. Placebo effects are any effect not taken into account in a scientific study. The best example of a placebo effect that isn’t mind over matter is just the natural progression of a disease. People can get better from disease naturally.

    (By the way, if herbs don’t have any therapeutic effects or active ingredients, why is there so much information available on possible side effects and interactions? Even the National Institute on Health has a section for herbs now.)

    A lot of herbs and foods actually hinder the effects of pharmaceutical drugs.

    • Adam_Y said

      I have a question for you. If you have migraines 3 times a week and start taking feverfew capsules to prevent them, do you REALLY care whether the reduction is caused by the feverfew or the placebo effect if you start only having one a month? If it works, does it matter WHY it works?

      Yes when websites actually say that you can get withdrawal symptoms it sort of does matter how it works.

      • Yes, the how is important, however, that wasn’t my point. My point is, when someone is suffering from chronic, debilitating pain; they don’t really care whether something works because they THINK it will work, or because something in it interacts with their body.

        As I state in the disclaimer at the bottom of the post, the use of any alternative treatment should be supervised by a qualified practitioner. Anyone who randomly adds things to their treatment plan without researching the possible effects of those additions is taking a huge risk. In addition, qualified practitioner means someone trained in the use of that particular alternative treatment, not a medical doctor who may or may not know about possible side effects or interactions. (There will be more on this subject in a later post, although I do touch on it in the post “Managing Your Healthcare Team – Part I“.)

    • Thank you for the comment. I always enjoy it when people make me THINK about what I’ve said, and give me the opportunity to clarify something that may not have been properly stated.

      The definition I used came from the Princeton University website (http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=placebo%20effect). “Placebo effect” no longer refers only to scientific studies, but has been generalized to things that have nothing at all to do with drugs.

      Some herbs can have fatal interactions with prescription medications. In addition, there are interactions among various herbs and vitamins or supplements, as well as herbs that can affect lab results. Anyone who considers using herbal treatments must do the research and consult with a qualified practitioner, just as they would with prescription medications. I fully believe that herbs DO have therapeutic properties, the question was for those medical professionals who claim that herbs and supplements are inert substances and have no effect other than the placebo effect.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: