What’s in the Placebo?

 

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I read something recently that I found quite astounding and that is that BIG Pharma tampers with placebos or sugar pills in order to manipulate the outcome of double blind, placebo controlled drug tests. I have written extensively about placebo’s right here on this blog. However, if you have put your confidence and your very life in the hands of the people who conduct these tests, please read this:

The placebo is part of the hallowed halls of medical  science and professionals everywhere rely on them. We see and trust the term “placebo-controlled clinical trial and immediately most people think that this has got to mean something important?

To the ‘evidenced based’ afficianado’s, these trials mean, you can trust the results…in a nut shell, that their new drug has been compared to a “sugar pill” and this therefore proved how good it is.

There’s a lot people out there, myself included that don’t know about drug trials because they personally have never been part of one. And this is a very important aspect to consider in the future that might make us more prone to not trust the placebo-controlled results. And  one good reason is that we can’t trust the placebo itself for one of myriad reasons. If you are like me you might ask just who in Big Pharma can we trust? So this comes as no surprise. However, the placebo pill or sugar pill is one of the dirty little secrets in the drug industry.

Big Pharma wants you to believe it’s only a “sugar pill.” But that’s just the generic way they refer to placebos. In fact, few — if any — actually contain sugar.

So what DO placebo’s contain?

The answer is that what goes into the placebo exposes the outright myth of what has been referred to as the “gold standard” in drug research.

Think of how placebo results are used in advertising alone…

A few years ago, there was a TV drug ad with a voiceover saying: “The most common side effects — including headache, drowsiness, fatigue and dry mouth — occurred about as often as they did with a sugar pill.”

A sugar pill? How does a “sugar pill” cause headache, drowsiness, fatigue, and dry mouth?

Now think of all the times we’ve seen drug companies hide harmful data, manipulate numbers, or pay prestigious doctors to lend their names to research they didn’t do.”

Think of all that, and then consider this little-known fact:

Those very same drug companies design the “recipes” for placebos used in their own clinical trials. And they aren’t required to include the contents of the placebo in their study results.

In some cases it’s believed they even use lower doses of the drug being studied. How else would a sugar pill  cause the level of side effects caused by the chemical concoction?

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Placebo researcher Dr. Beatrice Golomb reports that placebo contents are never revealed in nine out of 10 drug studies that appear in major journals and that there isn’t anything actually known to be physiologically inert. On top of that, there are no regulations about what goes into placebos, and what is in them is often determined by the makers of the drug being studied, who have a vested interest in the outcome of the trial. And there has been no expectation that placebos’ composition be disclosed. At least if {this information was included} then readers of the study might make up their own mind about whether the ingredients in the placebo might affect the interpretation of the study.

Golomb pointed out these limitations to the placebo in a pair of letters to the journal Nature 15 years ago.

“A positive or negative effect of the placebo can lead to the misleading appearance of a negative or positive effect of the drug,” she said. “And an effect in the same direction as the drug can lead a true effect of the drug to be lost. These concerns aren’t just theoretical. Where the composition has been disclosed, the ingredients of the placebo have in some instances had a likely impact on the result of the study — in either direction (obscuring a real effect, or creating a spurious one). In the cases we know about, this is not because of any willful manipulation, but because it can in fact be difficult to come up with a placebo that does not have some kind of problem.”

Since 15 years have elapsed,  one might think that the situation might have improved, therefore, Golomb and her colleagues analyzed just how often randomized trials published in the past two years in each of the top four general medical journals actually disclosed the makeup of placebos.

The answer is not reassuring, according to the researchers, who found that the placebo ingredients for pills were disclosed in fewer than 10 percent of cases. (The nature of the “control” was significantly more likely to be stated for other types of treatments — like injections, acupuncture, or surgery — where people are more likely to question what “placebo” actually means.)

“How often study results are affected by what’s in the placebo is hard to say — because, as this study showed, most of the time we have no idea what the placebo is,” Golomb concluded.

Additional contributors to the study included Laura C. Erickson, BS, Sabrina Koperski, BS, Deanna Sack, BS, and UCSD Department of Medicine; Murray Enkin, MD, Departments of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, McMaster University, Ontario, Canada; and Jeremy Howick, PhD, Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, University of Oxford, England.

That leaves a lot of room for drug companies to tweak placebo ingredients to get the results they want without anyone ever knowing.

For additional reading to help get a clear picture of the ‘believing is seeing,’ notion which further explores placebo’s and their new cousin the ’nocebo’ read this wonderful excerpt from Bruce Lipton’s book, Spontaneous Evolution.  

My opinion..it’s time to take control of our own health and learn all we can about diet, exercise, nutritional supplements and all the new technologies that come our way which I share through this blog, my websites and social media sites.

 

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