Placebos are getting stronger, according to yet another study by the University of New York’s Health Science Laboratory. As drug commercials fill our minds with new diseases ranging from restless leg syndrome to shrinking bladders, our bodies have become more in tune with the mysterious health benefits of simply “believing” something will work.
When pharmaceuticals are being tested, they are held to a high standard that requires they actually show better results than the placebo, or they are not accepted for distribution. One of the interesting things to note about the increasing trend of effectiveness in placebo is, several drugs would not have been approved had they been tested today, including the ever popular Prozac.
It seems this revelation shows us not only the over-hyping of several pharmaceutical drugs’ effectiveness, but also seems to indicate the human mind has some level of control over the body even beyond what we would normally accept. Mind over matter, it seems, needs to be more effectively explored by medical science. Many drugs, including some cancer treatments, have been surpassed by the power of the mind. Could the secret to future cancer treatment be as easy as trying to ‘believe’ they work? Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that.
Placebos are effective because they are the physical manifestation of a genuine belief for results. Unfortunately, telling someone to “just believe” they will get better if they take a sugar pill is as effective as telling them goblins will cure them. In ancient days there were thousands of “superstitious” placebos believed widely to do any number of things, even cure blindness. The incredible part is, it worked. Could the ritual of doctors gathering around a patient, shaking their heads, and saying, “I just don’t know what to do, doctor… well there is one hope,” be a new version of ancient rituals involving a shaman dancing around the afflicted to summon spirits? The Hmong have a long history of traditional medicine, and western scientists have actually found that integrating western medicine along with Eastern medicine has been incredibly effective in improving the health of Hmong populations. For years hospitals have been staffed with priests and chapels, and along with them reports of miracles have sprung out of nowhere.
Alternately, side effects are also reported just as often in placebo as they are in the natural drug. A group given a sugar pill will report all the commercialized side effects for the drug they believe they’re taking. Commercials themselves have become a terrifyingly powerful agent in controlling disease, creating new syndromes, and displaying side effects for many common drugs. It should also be noted that while swine flu is in the media, several thousand cases of “mundane” flue have exhibited symptoms of swine flu only to be subsequently downgraded back to mundane. Which brings up an interesting question. Could a disease exist entirely in our minds?
Several patients suffering from hypochondria are capable of displaying symptoms that manifest a sort of physical illness. For example, a man suffering from anxiety over the possibility of contracting Swine flu could quickly manifest this as stomach upset. The stomach upset could dehydrate him causing him to have chills, have a pallid appearance, and a splitting headache. A well trained doctor could recognize the symptoms and assure him he’s simply suffering from anxiety and/or fatigue. This alone may cure him. But what would happen if the same doctor, awash in swine flu cases, diagnosed him? Is it possible to perceive more symptoms than are present? What if the doctor had been fearing mutation for weeks? “This could be it,” he says, arranging a press conference. Suddenly reports are all over the state. At what point does a disease like that become impossible to diagnose? Of course this is an extreme example, but several more mundane examples have arisen in the past, including a string of cases in Portugal in 2006 where hundreds of students reported a case of what would later be called “Morangos com AÃƒÂ§ÃƒÂºcar Virus.” The only problem was, the disease never existed. It was a fictional disease that had been on a popular television program the night before.
Is it possible that western medicine has forgotten the most basic and important factor in curing? The inner strength of the patient, and the body’s ability to call upon some unknown source within itself to focus it energy and cure itself of diseases. Or could placebo in itself eventually become its own placebo? Could taking a sugar pill become so recognized as a cure-all that many psychological illnesses are cured with a reaffirming chant of belief along with a token pill that acts as a “cure-all?” Could the hospital of the future be supplemented by mysterious ’treatment pods’ in which patients are hyped up to believe the effects of the pill they are about to take before actually being administered it? Could doctors in the future be nothing more than very convincing talkers? It may sound like something from a pulp science fiction novel, but these avenues are being seriously discussed.