The Power Of Placebos And A Firm Faith

The Power Of Placebos And A Firm Faith

Placebo effects are a pervasive and powerful part of any therapy, whether it be a well established pharmaceutical product or a far out flaky approach devoid of any scientific support. Placebo responses can influence all treatment results, whether it be to Prozac, penicillin, radiation for cancer, or coronary bypass surgery. We will be devoting a subsequent Newsletter to placebos and nocebos based on new insights into how their effects may be mediated and the mechanisms of action that could be involved. This has important implications for stress research, since it provides an appreciation of unanticipated pathways of mind/body interrelationships that may susceptible to monitoring and manipulation.

An enthusiastic belief and a strong faith in any therapy can significantly influence how patients will respond. There are numerous dramatic demonstrations of this, one being a patient with multiple metastatic lesions who was told that krebiozen, a new anticancer compound, would provide a prompt cure. Following a brief course of treatment, his metastases "melted like snowballs on a hot stove". He went from being bedridden, to a full active life, including flying his own plane, until he read a newspaper report that the drug had been found to be worthless. The lesions rapidly returned, and he succumbed to his illness shortly thereafter. Equally impressive was the ability of ipecac, a drug used to induce vomiting after poisons were ingested, to actually relieve symptoms of nausea and vomiting in pregnant women, when they were convinced by physicians that it would provide instant relief. Although these placebo investigators knew this was false, the therapist's belief is also important.

An optimistic, enthusiastic approach will obviously reinforce any patient's positive attitude. However, at our Tenth Congress, we will show how a researcher's projected thoughts can actually change the hydrogen ion concentration of a solution by a factor often, influence the thermodynamic activity of a liver enzyme, as well as the time it takes for a fruit fly larva to develop. It is likely that worthless treatments can produce stunning successes in some patients, if the awesome potential for self-healing that resides in all of us is unleashed by such forces working in concert. That is why "double blinded" studies, in which neither doctor nor patient knows what is being prescribed remains the gold standard. Since many alternative therapies do not lend themselves to this type of testing, it may be difficult or impossible to rule out the power of the placebo.The American Institute of Stress.

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