A placebo is an innocuous substance which has no medicinal properties… often the proverbial ‘sugar pill’. It can also be a procedure, or an injection. While placebos do not actually act on a disease, disease agent, or other condition; many people report feeling better or otherwise enhanced by taking them. This is the placebo effect, a trick of the mind or the ability of the mind to naturally relieve pain and produce other temporary effects. There is an opposite effect also, called nocebo effect where the placebo causes adverse side effects like aches, vomiting, etc. In other words, the effects of the placebo are caused by the patients expectations.
The placebo effect does not work on animals, since they have no expectations about it. However, an animal’s owner may think his pet dog is doing/feeling better after giving the dog an unknown placebo based on his own subjective judgements about the animal.
A Harvard medical school professor, Ted Kaptchuk, did a study comparing the effects of acupuncture versus an albuterol inhaler for treating asthma symptoms. While the patients receiving acupuncture treatments reported being less short of breath, lung function tests showed no improvement. Patients receiving the albuterol did show positive lung function improvements. This points out a danger of the placebo effect…. patients receiving the acupuncture treatments did not know they were not any better, and could be in serious life threatening trouble.
Because of the placebo effect, testimonials about health/drug products are useless and prove nothing. People who buy into a drug or device based on testimonials already have a psychological investment in that product. Because of this psychological (and monetary) investment, they are more likely to experience a positive placebo effect, and then make a positive testimonial about it. On the other hand, if no positive effect is produced, the user/buyer simply discards it, and most importantly doesn’t waste time and energy writing a negative testimonial. Psychology biases the testimonials to be positive. Because of this, scams abound. Some examples include taking minute (teaspoon) sized doses of ionic silver, Hulda Clark’s zapper, electrolytic foot baths, etc.
Scientists know that the gold standard method of ruling out the placebo effect with drugs is the double blind study. In a double blind study, neither the patient nor the clinician knows whether the drug he is dispensing is a real drug or a placebo. If the test results show that the positive effects for the real drug are about the same as the placebo, then the researcher knows that the drug is not really effective. Double blinding is especially important when dealing with subjective symptoms such as pain as opposed to measurable signs like blood parameters.
While the double blind testing procedure works for drugs, it of course cannot be used for everything. Its impossible to double blind a surgical procedure for example. The cardiac surgeon knows whether he bypassed an artery or not. This has lead to some totally ineffective procedures. For example, when X-rays were first becoming available, people were x-rayed in a standing position, and doctors would diagnose them with sagging organs. To correct the ‘sagging organs’, surgeons would open up the patient and tie their internal organs to their rib cage. The patients reported feeling better, but of course their organs were not out of place to begin with…. doctors thought they were because doctors trained in anatomy with their cadavers lieing down on a table top.
Even heart catheterization may be a placebo effect. The Mayo clinic had this to say about stents:
Balloon and stents are suitable for reducing complaints, i.e. for relieving symptoms.
Balloons and stents do not prevent heart attacks and do not prolong life.
Stents prevent the development of renewed stenoses at the same location in the vessel, but do not reduce the frequency of heart attacks or deaths.
Then if the only positive effect of stenting coronary arteries is reducing symptoms, its quite possible that it is merely the placebo effect.
So why is stenting so prevalent? It produces huge amounts of revenues for doctors and hospitals. Follow the money trail is always good advice.
Then, in the absence of double blind studies, we have to rely on testable scientific evidence to determine whether a substance or procedure works. As an example, chelation treatments to remove calcified plaques from arteries has not been studied using double blind techniques. However, the reduction of calcium in the coronary arteries has been proven by the Cardiac Calcium Scoring Test, which is an objective, quantifiable test procedure.
This is also the case with colloidal silver, as to my knowledge there has never been any double blind testing. With colloidal silver, there is a multitude of laboratory research showing not only that silver nanoparticles kill pathogens, but also important insights into how they do it. So colloidal silver is not dependent on anecdotal testimonial evidence for validation. Compare that to a Hulda Clark zapper which has no bonafide scientific research and backing, but only relies on testimonials, driven by the placebo effect.
The cost of the placebo effect is bad drugs, bad devices, expensive health care, and poorer health.