But I Feel Better: The Placebo Effect
Moms, dads and grandparents are known for kissing it better. And, even though, as adults, we are aware that there is no scientific basis for the resultant positive experience, how many of us would attest that being consoled does not make us feel better, even when the ailment is physical?
In the same way, research has shown that just thinking you are receiving medical treatment makes you feel better. For this reason about half of US doctors prescribe placebo (sham medicine) at least once a month–in effect, deliberately deceiving their patients. The question is: is it better for a physician to be truthful or for him or her to make you feel better?
The first question to ask is: what is the “medicine” that they prescribe? Apparently, the only sugar pill available for prescription today is Obecalp (read backwards). So, those members of the medical community who feel use of a different placebo is in order may inject their patient with salt water or prescribe antibiotics, vitamins, pain relievers, or even sedatives, sometimes doing more harm than good. Alternatively, they may recommend their patients seek help from various alternative medicine therapists, which are another story entirely.
One must also ask whether placebos actually work. The answer is yes and no. Placebos are effective in reducing pain, actually reduce depressive feelings in 45% of patients (about the same as SSRI’s), and have been shown to suppress allergic symptoms, provided that they are administered in a supportive setting, that is, the clinician tells them that the placebo will reduce pain, etc. Amazingly, research has shown that the “placebo” effect is not just in the patient’s mind, but that placebo treatment can change release of endogenous opioids and neurotransmitters. Of course, placebos do not work to address genuine bacterial infection, heart disease, cancer, and those diseases that have minimal psychological components.
So, what course of action will a physician of integrity choose? That they should, “provide a supportive clinical encounter that relieves anxiety and promotes positive expectations…” goes without saying. But, is it ethical for a physician to prescribe unneeded antibiotics, sedatives, and pain relievers or to recommend acupuncture, homeopathy, or a visit to a chiropracter? The former, being drugs, can cause adverse effects and the latter therapies are all known to work by a placebo effect. When one realizes that many of these treatments cause actual damage (e.g. chiropractic can cause severe injury), possibly not. Seems like we would be better to stick with real medicine combined with kissing it better.