Thursday, March 11, 2010

The increasing power of the sugar pill....

This is an interesting NPR story that combines aspects of the nervous system with the idea of the placebo effect, which I'm sure you're all fundamentally familiar with. It turns out that, for some disorders at least, the placebo effect is real enough to obscure the true results of double-blind clinical experiments that scientifically determine the effectiveness of different drugs. Very interesting!


Julie Jung said...

Did George know when he agreed to the experiment that only 50% of the participants would receive the actual surgery? I was under the impression that a condition of the placebo effect was that all the participants are told that the sugar pill has medicinal value.

It's surprising to me how when George was informed months after that he'd received a placebo, his Parkinson's condition went away for several years before the tremors came back. It seems the effects of the placebo are stronger, but not permanent.

ΆΛЯΘй said...

I agree with Julie in that it would seem like the doctor leading the experiment wouldn't tell him that there was a 50% chance he wouldn't get the actual operation. Wouldn't it be more beneficial to the placebo effect to just tell him he is getting the full operation even though in reality he isn't?

It is still amazing though that despite George's knowing about his 'fake operation,' he still managed to overcome his Parkinson's even if it only was for a limited time.

Concerning the increase in the placebo effect over time, I feel that the placebo effect today is more effective than it was in the mid-late 20th century because the technologies then weren't nearly as complex or successful as they are today. In the early 20th century, for example, if you had a disease such as pneumonia, you had an incredibly low chance at surviving. So even if you were given a pill that doctors said would cure the pneumonia, you didn't have the knowledge that it could be cured. Today, however, we know that there are ways of overcoming these diseases, so giving a placebo to a patient instead of an expensive surgery, or medication, would have a greater effect on that person because they know that it is possible.

In any case, the placebo effect is really interesting in the way that it can cause someone to overcome something even as serious as Parkinson's without any 'real' operation.