Uh-oh: more strange news about Humans – apparently we’re very placebo-susceptible.
According to Jerome Groopman, MD, Chair of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, in his New Yorker piece, “The Most Notable Medical Findings of 2015,” (there are seven), placebos - placebos – are very real, very powerful, and, he says, may change how we think about medicine. For example, when it comes to taking an inert sugar pill – something that should have zero effect — research tells us otherwise:
“In most cases, the larger the pill, the stronger the placebo effect. Two pills are better than one, and brand-name pills trump generics. Capsules are generally more effective than pills, and injections produce a more pronounced effect than either. There is even evidence to suggest that the color of medicine influences the way one responds to it: colored pills are more likely to relieve pain than white pills; blue pills help people sleep better than red pills; and green capsules are the best bet when it comes to anxiety medication.”
Which may explain why 97 per cent of UK doctors admit to administering ‘impure’ placebos. These are unproven treatments including antibiotics for suspected viral infections, such as the cold or flu, on the basis that they “clearly believe that placebos can help patients.” Of course, technically speaking, there is a downside to this: the spread of antibiotic resistance which is predicted to kill more people than cancer.
But placebos don’t really help infected patients do they? Well, according to this study, the antibiotic amoxicillin is no better than a placebo for most sinus infections. Not only that, the placebo comes without side effects!
So where does this leave us? Since it’s the day before New Year’s Eve we’ll turn to a well-known home remedy – humor. The New Yorker just published “Our Fifteen Most-Read Blog Posts of 2015.” The best of the bunch may be courtesy of humorist Andy Borowitz with his little gem: “Scientists: Earth Endangered by New Strain of Fact-Resistant Humans,” best read in its (brief) entirety here.
So let’s review: we are not a fact-susceptible, placebo-resistant species. Nope. With us, it’s the other way around.
And so with that – Happy New Year!