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The Placebo Effect

Posted by Sanjib Sarkar on Wed, Oct 01, 2008 @ 11:37 AM

Tags: Homeopathy, placebo

  The placebo effect is a mechanism where someone is taking a medicine that contains really nothing.  They think the medicine that they are taking helps them to get rid of their ailment.  The person automatically becomes better even though the medicine contained no real substance.

  Many critics point out that homeopathy works because of the placebo effect.  Many homeopathic medicines contain no active substance so any benefits realized with homeopathy must be due to a placebo effect.  So much does the placebo effect actually help is brought into question?

  Some research studies have shown that inactive substances made with sugar or water can help patients approximately 1/3 of the time.  Patients psychologically believe that this type of medicial treatment is helping them.   These are small research studies and they are certainly not conclusive.

  The placebo effect can also be difficult to measure due to the fact that many people can cure their illness just on their own.  The body's own immune system helps to fight diesease and taking the placebo pills really would not speed up that process.  However, the placebo pill may make the person feel better since they are inclined in thinking the medicine given has helped them.

Another interesting question is how do dogs, cats and babies respond to a placebo?  These groups are not aware that they are taking medicine so the placebo effect does not really exist within these groups.  However, the placebo effect may exist with the person giving the medication.  The person giving the medication may feel an improvement in the condition within these groups because they had provided a remedy.   How much a dog, cat or baby would get better on their own is not know if they had not taken a placebo.

   The effects of placebo in allopathic or western medicine has not been studied extensively.  A large percentage of allopathic medicine has never  been properly research and tested.  Most people are not sure how western medicine works.  The exact way aspirin cures headaches is unknown today.  However, many people take aspirin even though they have no idea how it works.

  Homeopathic trials comparing homeopathy versus allopathic medicine usually have come out quite favorable to homeopathy.  Most trials generally show that the homeopathic medicine works as well as the allopathic medicine.   Examples of this would be a trial of 146 people that showed homeopathic nasal spray treated hayfever as well as the allopathic spray. 

  Homeopathic trials with placebos are much more of a mix bag of trials.  Some of the research studies come out quite positive but others have not show too much difference than the placebo. Certainly many of these trials did not follow procedures as homeopaths would practice.  It would interesting to see how some of the untested allopathic medicine compare to a placebo.

  A placebo effect may exist in all forms of medicine just not homeopathy.  How much a placebo effect can help a patient is unknown?  Research does suggest that placebo can be help patients cure their ailments but this is far from conclusive.  

How much does the placebo effect play in homeopathy?

How big a role does the placebo effect play in allopathic or western medicine? 

Are people taking too much medication when they may just get better by themselves?

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