Some Dummy Pills Work Just As Well As Drugs

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“Dear Pharmacist,
Is it true that fake pills work just as good as real drugs?”

–F.B. Santa Rosa, California

Answer: Placebos are just inactive pills or treatments, they are tested against ‘real’ medicine to see which works better. Before you dismiss the concept, consider that two groups of people receive knee surgery. One of the groups gets an authentic operation, while the other group just gets sutures placed while under anesthesia. The results were the same. And this is mind-blowing: One group of people receives chemotherapy, and another group receives a fake placebo treatment. Both groups lose their hair!

Patenting drugs makes good business sense for companies who need to recoup their money from research and development. But we are missing the most fascinating aspect of clinical trials. Look beyond the obvious conclusion and see the miracle that is happening with approximately one-third of the patients in many research groups. They are getting better because of their belief in the pill they took, even though that pill is a fake!  How does a drug that hardly works better than a fake get approved by the Food and Drug Administration? I imagine the conversation goes something like this:

Scientist at Drug Company: “Our ‘Tenbuxapill’ works slightly better than this dummy pill, so we’d like you to approve it.”

FDA: “What are the side effects?”

Scientist: “Dizziness, vomiting, seizures, depression, hair loss, headaches and Tourette’s.”

FDA: “Can’t we just approve the sugar pill with no side effects?”

Scientist: “Shhh.”

In recent years, over 150 million annual prescriptions for antidepressants are filled in the United States. These drugs barely outperform placebos. Some companies have to conduct a bunch of trials before they get a positive result to publish but you would never know because most clinical trials (especially the negative ones) get filed in dusty cabinets or accidentally shredded. Shhh.

In a recent JAMA study, the researchers poured over 2,100 studies and concluded that the benefits of antidepressants were “minimal or nonexistent” when compared to placebo. I know why too, it’s because drugs don’t address the underlying cause of depression which could be due nutrient deficiencies, a gene defect, low thyroid or adrenal insufficiency.  Lifting the blues will be the subject of a future column, the point here is that drugs don’t fare out much better than duds, yet they could cost you an arm and a leg!

So what power is within the dud pill that causes it to lessen pain, reduce cholesterol or ease depression? Absolutely nothing, the power is not in the pill, it’s in your mind. We have an amazing capacity to heal, and generate our own happy hormones, antibiotics, anti-coagulants and pain-relieving opiates. We just need to believe that our bodies are the best pharmacy available, but shhh, don’t tell anyone else that America’s pharmacist said so.

Did You Know?
Eating oatmeal help you help ‘grab’ and eliminate nasty chemicals that hide in your colon.