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Placebo Power Grows, Perplexing Big Pharma Companies

It's a real challenge developing better drugs for loads of common conditions because there are already so many effective treatments.

But another problem that might surprise you is that placebos, the dummy pills that are the gold standard for comparison in drug studies, seem to be getting more powerful. A provocative piece in Wired describes the evolving science behind placebos and the relatively recent finding that patients' response to sugar pills in many studies appears stronger than it used to be.

Psychiatrist and drug researcher William Potter, now at Merck, found that antidepressants, including Prozac, were more likely to fail when compared to placebos in trials conducted recently than in studies a decade earlier. Results also varied by location and according to doctors' subjective interpretation of supposedly standardized measures of response.

Now Potter and colleagues in the drug industry are dredging decades of clinical testing data to figure out what's driving the rise in placebo power. Called the "Placebo Response Drug Trials Survey," the project is funded by some of the biggest names in the drug industry.

Doctors already know that placebos can get the job done and commonly prescribe them to patients. Few physicians resort to actual sugar pills, but about half of American internists and rheumatologists regularly prescribe some sort of placebo, according to a survey published last year in the BMJ. The placebos of choice: over-the-counter painkillers and vitamins.

Source: NPR Health Blog, By Scott Hensley, August 25th 2009
Dr. Iverson's Comment
The all Powerful Placebo pokes his pervasive head out again! Good for it!  
Placebos are here to stay and instead of fighting them we need to embrace them. We need to ask, “Why is the patient getting better with placebos?” We need to find how we can utilize this powerful mind medicine rather than snuff it out. 
Think about it: a placebo is doing the same job as a medicine and it has absolutely no side effects and no long term consequences. Does that sound like the perfect medicine or what? 
Ideally, the physician should be spending more time with the patient to help address the underlying nature of the symptoms. Commonly there is an emotional or mental component that is not being addressed and this is why placebos can be so effective—because the patient wants so much to be better and wants to put faith into something.
Through experience it can be quite impressive how long-standing symptoms can disappear almost overnight if the patient is allowed to express the stressors that are on their mind. Sharing your dilemmas with friends and family, working out challenges through counseling, and journaling your thoughts on paper are all excellent ways to unwind the emotional energy attached to physical symptoms. Getting out and having fun and experiencing the joy of life is another way to crowd out the negative mental talk that can overwhelm our day.
Placebos hold the keys to understanding the magical power of your body to heal itself. They should not be ignored. We can access this healing capacity simply by becoming more aware of our emotional body and the stressors which impact us.
Take it easy and bring joy into your life!
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