Take this! It really works!!
Take this! It really works!!

Last month the New York Times ran a story about a clinical study that showed placebos are effective – even when the patient is TOLD that his/her pill is an inert placebo containing no medication whatsoever.

Briefly, patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) were told by a physician that taking a placebo containing no active ingredients had been shown to help with IBS symptoms. Patients who took the clearly-marked placebos reported “significantly” more improvement at 11 days and at 21 days, which was the end of the test.

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On a slightly more serious note. I’ve long believed that it’s the placebo effect that keeps most nutritional supplement companies in business. When a personal friend you know and trust tells you “Hey, I used ABC powder and I had more energy in the gym and all my lifts increased,” you tend to believe him. So you buy the ABC powder and go to the gym with confidence and a sense of excitement about what it might do for you. So you pay attention. You concentrate. You really push and pull for all you’re worth. And what happens? All your weights go up. Then what happens? You build some extra muscle! Then what happens? You go tell a different friend, “Hey, I used ABC powder and I had more energy in the gym and all my lifts increased.”

And so it goes. Until the realities of physics and biology press you up against the wall of overtraining and no pill can get you past that. That’s why it’s almost impossible to find a guy who says, “I’ve been taking ABC powder for years and it still works.” In most cases you can’t even find the crap a few years later. It’s been replaced with some new wonder-placebo.

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5 Comments.

  • Ray C

    Does this mean that if you really and truly beleive that something will work for you, eventhough there is no scientific evidence that it does, that it will actually work because you beleive it will?

  • StaticContrac

    Hi Ray. These studies rarely claim exact conclusions. What it implies is that if an authority figure (physician) tells you that a pill with nothing in it has been shown to improve your condition, many people will feel improvement if they take the pill.

  • David Dressler, BA, RMT

    IBS is known to be related to anxiety and other psychological factors. The placebo effect would best be tested on something not directly related to how one feels emotionally, such as a sprained ankle or burn. This experiment is far, far from conclusive.

  • David Dressler, BA, RMT

    Another thing. People could be selected who tend NOT to believe their doctors (for whom the doctor is NOT an authority figure) and then compare their results with a group who have been selected because they tend to follow medical authority. And, a third group could be friends who offer the same placebo. Which group would show better results?

  • StaticContrac

    Right. Every study leads to more inquiry. It’s not easy to get to the truth and it’s especially difficult to get to the ”why” behind these phenomena. But it’s clear that something is affecting some people when they are told a pill will work. I think that’s what keeps most supplement companies in business. (And all of the ones who claim to have a muscle-building pill.)

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