The placebo effect is the medical phenomenon, where the mind expects to be receiving treatment for an ailment, and so simulates the expected response (e.g recovery from infection), when in fact they have not received any medication. This makes the placebo effect a perfect comparison in testing new medicines, because if a medicine demonstrates a greater positive effect than the placebo, it is a fair assumption to say the medicine works. This article will explore what impacts the extent of the placebo effect, and how it can influence our health.
A placebo is usually a sugar pill which looks like a pharmaceutical pill, but has no actual benefit to the body. However, we know that 4 placebo pills is a more effective treatment for curing stomach ulcers than 2 placebo pills. This is because the perceived benefit which the patient is expecting is greater for 4 pills than 2, even though, in reality, there is no actual benefit from the pills. We also know that a salt water injection (which has no medical properties) had a greater positive effect that sugar pills. This is because an injection is seen as a more sever treatment than a pill, and so a greater benefit is expected by the mind.
The placebo effect is very useful in the pharmaceutical industry, a medication is used to treat an established ailment, for example a headache. Most people will take a paracetamol when they have a headache, but to see if a paracetamol actually cures a headache it needs to be tested against a placebo. Typically, the way this will be done is a group of sufferers (say 100 people with headaches) will be split evenly into two groups of 50. One group will receive a placebo pill, and the other group will receive a paracetamol, but no one will know which group got which pill. After an hour, each sufferer will be asked if they still have a headache or not, and if the group which had the paracetamol had significantly more people cured, then we can say that paracetamol is effective at curing headaches.
A placebo is less easy to measure in the health industry, and holds less significance. The purpose of eating healthily, or supplementing your diet is to prevent disease, keep healthy and optimize your bodys abilities, not to to cure a disease, and so cannot be measured in the same way as success is measured in the pharmaceutical industry. Success of health foods and supplements however, can be measured by blood samples, lipid build up in arteries, heart function etc
The placebo effects is a fascination phenomenon, and is extremely relevant in the pharmaceutical industry to test the effectiveness of new compounds. However, with health, we know what effect the nutrients have on our body already, and is very difficult to measure as health is preventative, whereas medications in curative.
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