Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Is the placebo effect effective?

In my early 20s, I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. But Western medical doctors had little to offer in the way of treatment, so I just lived with periodic bouts of diarrhea and constipation. Then, in the early 1990s, when I was researching a newspaper article on alternative medicine, I interviewed naturopaths and homeopaths who seemed to really care about and emphasize the importance of digestive health.

I began taking homeopathic remedies to restore balance to my "constitution." It was a slow process, but today I'm nearly symptom free.

When I mentioned this to a doctor friend one day, he suggested the treatment hadn't really worked and that my response was the result of a "placebo effect."

"So what?" I asked. If I felt better, it didn't really matter, did it?

Maybe there was some therapeutic benefit to having a practitioner who actually listened to me, spent time with me and believed that I could get well. And maybe medical doctors could learn from that.

Science journalist Michael Specter explores the placebo effect in a Dec. 12 article in The New Yorker. It focuses on the work of acupuncturist Ted Kaptchuk, who directs the new The Program in Placebo Studies and the Therapeutic Encounter at Harvard Medical School.

You have to be a subscriber to read the magazine article online:
But you could find the print copy at the library or read more by doing a Google search for the institute and its director.