Let’s Talk Placebo

Let’s Talk Placebo

I get into this discussion regularly with regards to supplements, protein shakes, weight loss miracle pills and whatever other fads have come about over the years. The typical, "it works cause I lost weight" or "I feel better taking it"

I regularly explain to my patients, people I meet and many of the individuals selling these products, why this is happening. In most cases it's a placebo affect, or the body just hasn't caught on yet that what you are feeding it is fake, synthetic or plain old fashioned bullshit.

Many studies have been done on the power of the sugar pill, we know that two sugar pills are always more powerful than one. We also know that the colour plays a role as well. We know that it works on the young and the old, children, animals and even in surgery cases. Yes you read that correct.

When someone tells me a remedy works for them as an argument, my response is simple. It's likely a placebo affect. With that being said, who cares! If it works AND it isn't causing harm, then why not right? They key to that statement is that it needs to be doing you ZERO HARM. Unfortunately a lot of these "feel good" products are doing just that, causing long term harm. We don't attribute it to the product itself though, we assume that it is a new development which requires, you guessed it, another supplement to correct the issue. 

You could also be getting better due to what is known as 'regression of the mean'. This is one (of many) cognitive illusions as they are known. This means all things have a cycle, they improve then get worse, they get worse then improve. It's the normal cycle.

One of my favourite quotes is from Voltaire "The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature cures the disease". No statement has ever been more true. If we let our body simply do it's job, in many cases the cycle will come back around and we will feel better again, but instead we throw this pill and that pill at it. This is not true in all cases, we do need to help our bodies out a bit. This can mean anything from adding in a non synthetic supplement, re-inoculating with a probiotic or removing the toxic, over processed food from our diet. 

It's like the common cold. You took something and it helped it get better quicker, or did it? How do you know as each cold will have a different severity and duration. Much like how they have shown vitamin C does nothing for the common cold, but we take it anyway. Then the next time we get sick we reach for the same thing, why? Cause it worked before, or so we think.

We simply cannot make decisions based on the comments "but I feel better when I take it" when there is no science to back it up, but that is also a dangerous statement. Science in itself is constantly changing.

 Confused yet?

Fun fact: Over the course of many years, a team of Australian oncologists followed over 2000 terminally ill patients in palliative care. On average, they died after 5 months. However there was the 1% who survived to the 5 year mark. How? Well those were the ones using alternative, integrative and other non medical therapies. The statement released was this;  

"Miracle" cures shown to work. 

Doctors have found statistical evidence that alternative treatments such as special diets, herbal portions and faith healing can cure apparently terminal illness, but they remain unsure about the reasons.

Let's talk colour, yup that has effect as well. Studies on sugar pills show that colour plays a role. A pink will stimulate and a blue will calm, green is better than yellow for anxiety and yellow was better than green for depression. Yet if all of the above were placebo sugar pills the same would still be true.

Prozac is white and blue for a reason. Much like Tylenol and all the no names are red. The PR companies knew what they were doing there. Take Tylenol and make it green, it will not work. There is a science to this.

Same is applied to cost. We find that a more costly product is more effective than a cheaper one, especially when dealing with pain relief. 

We are deficient as a society in magnesium for example, we do need to supplement with it in many cases. No we do not need to buy expensive supplements to achieve this. Remember that PR and marketing firms are paid well to advertise products based upon our weaknesses, our need to be thing and healthy, our need for more energy and better performance. 

Not all are bad, not all are good. It takes research and knowledge to weed out the snake oil and unnecessary additions to our daily health regime.

At the end of the day do what feels right to you. As long as it is not doing harm then who cares if it is placebo, as long as you feel better. Always remember to get to the root cause and not use a band-aid solution.  Figure out what went wrong, how you got to the health crisis you are currently in and then take the steps to fix it.

It all takes time, there is no fast fix.

You took the time to get here, now allow yourself the time to get back to optimal health.

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