The Power of the Placebo

A placebo is an inactive drug usually administered in the form of a sugar pill.  They are typically used in drug tests to determine the effectiveness of certain drugs.  Half the participants in a test are given a new drug to test, the other half gets a placebo.  In theory, those receiving the drug will improve while those receiving the placebo see no change in their health.  In practice, it doesn’t always turn out like that.

In what may be described as a “mind over matter,” those that receive the placebo and think that they are getting a powerful drug to help their medical condition may actually improve.  This phenomenon is known as the placebo effect.

Taking advantage of this effect, early this year, the German Medical Association advised German doctors to start administering more placebos–implying that those doctors were already administering placebos. What do those German doctors know that the rest of the world doesn’t?  Maybe nothing.  They are just willing to take action on that knowledge.  On average, Germans live longer and healthier lives than Americans.  You can read about this development over at the CNN health site.

For interesting insights into placebos, check out this video.  It is less than three minutes long and well worth your time.

What does all of this have to do with those suffering from Meniere’s disease?  Currently, Meniere’s disease is incurable and there is no definitive answer to how to treat this debilitating ailment.  To make matters worse, what works well for one sufferer may have not effect at all for another.  This is maddening for both medical practitioners and those diagnosed with Meniere’s.

I have talked with different doctors over the years and have mentioned treatments that have worked for others.  Sometimes I have received the eyeroll.  Without actually verbalizing it, the doctor is implying “yeah, whatever.”  Its not really encouraging being on the receiving end of those communications.

My attitude has always been that if something works for you and is not harmful in other ways, you should continue to get the benefit from whatever that something is.  Make sure that it really is helping long-term and that it is not a temporary help.

That attitude carries over to my outlook on placebos too.  If taking a placebo helps and causes no harm, why not continue?  I am a very logical person and my career has been in engineering.  Most of what I do every day is based on sound principles of science. One might question why I would endorse the placebo effect.  I truly believe that one day, science will be able to explain why the placebo effect works so well.  If you go back hundreds of years to when the native american medicine man was curing people with herbal remedies, I doubt that he could give a scientific explanation about why those remedies worked. They worked, so he used them.  It was pretty simple.

If someone questions what is working for you, stating that it is just a placebo, don’t let it bother you or introduce doubt. Thank them for sharing and continue to receive the benefits of your “placebo.”