Placebos, Much ado about nothing, literally

For years we’ve been hearing of the “benefits” of such interventions as homeopathy, mega-vitamin therapy, coffee enemas, detoxification, cranial sacral therapy, weekly chiropractic therapy and a multitude of other alternative remedies.  People swear they help and spend billions.   Yet there is precious little evidence that show’s benefit such as decreased chronic illnesses or improved longevity.

So it’s not surprising that a study of routine medical practices reveals that doctors candidly believe some of the practices no better than placebo.  I used to tell patients with colds that without treatment it would take seven long days for the problem to resolve.  With antibiotics it would take just one week–yet that is what they wanted.  I was told that if I didn’t treat them they’d find someone else to do so and a number of patients did so.

It’s as simple as that, people believe an intervention anyone, even lacking in evidence, is better for them than none.  How else to explain the “efficacy” of homeopathic remedies which contain no active ingredient and is diluted to the the point of having no medicinal value.  Yet patients swear by it because they think they are being treated and they do get better.  It should be pointed out that the great majority of what a family doc sees each day would also better, just as quickly and completely, without any intervention.  Patients seek  reassurance but also in many cases insist on something being “done.”

That’s the essence of placebos and as long as patients want to believe it works it will in most instances–just a week rather than 7 long days.

But it is a costly game.

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