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The Powerful Placebo Effect

Any positive results from Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) are frequently disregarded as being due only to the placebo effect - the suggestive effect that a therapy has on the individual. In orthodox medicine, a drug has to be shown to have a 'legitimate' physiological effect over and above a placebo.

In 1955, Beecher wrote the seminal article 'The Powerful Placebo' which illustrated that inert tablets could have powerful physiological effects on individuals. Since then it has been discovered that increasing the number of tablets, the brand and the size all can increase the response of the effect. Different kinds of response are even possible simply by changing the colour. Injections have a more powerful effect than tablets, and surgery has an even greater effect (yes, placebo surgery has been performed). It has been found that the effects of a form of surgery to reduce blood pressure could be duplicated simply by simulation. Although patients' health improved, the surgery was withdrawn. Orthodox medicine regards the placebo effect as the ghost in the machine, but it is an example of the power of the mind over the body.

With ever growing legislation, many branches of CAM are trying to prove that their form of therapy has some kind of provable physiological effect beyond that of a placebo, in a similar way to which drug companies test new pharmaceuticals. Ironically, the orthodox profession is researching the placebo effect of the patient-practitioner interaction, as it sees this as a more ethical way of obtaining the placebo effect without resorting to deceptive administration of inert tablets.

The patient-practitioner interaction is where CAM has its strength, treating people as individuals and listening to them, giving long consultation periods and providing the physical and human contact needed to remain healthy.

Hitchin Osteopathic Clinic, Old Park Dental Surgery, 72 Old Park Road, Hitchin, Hertfordshire SG5 2JT 01462 432609