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Why are we so afraid of placebo?

http://www.spectator.co.uk/susanhill/5801723/the-importance-of-placebo.thtml

Two stories in the news this week were

1) The Placebo effect:

The placebo effect is a real and therapeutic psychological phenomenon that, with more research, could be exploited more systematically in medical practice, said Australian researcher

http://www.medpagetoday.com/PublicHealthPolicy/ClinicalTrials/18588

2) the withdrawal of funding in the NHS for Homeopathy because it was…. well… simply a placebo.

Ok…I’m not sure I understand.

I’ve never been a particular fan of Homeopathy, mainly because when I was quite young, a friend’s Mother told me of how she “nearly lost her Son because of the homeopathic medicine he’d been prescribed”. Also, I do strongly believe in having an evidence-base. As far as I remember, some years ago, a study was done looking at the effects of homeopathy at a molecular level. None could be found.

What bothers me though, is that many (intelligent, down to earth) people I have spoken to, ‘believe’ that they have been cured by homeopathy, some of which may even have been skeptical to begin with. I also believe that the majority of homeopaths are well-studied practitioners, who practice their craft with a high standard of ethics and professionalism, who do it because they see their patients getting better.

My fear is that we are now so obsessed with evidence and regulation that anything that cannot be explained by today’s scientific thinking is discarded as ‘phoney’. We are in danger of becoming so narrow minded and reductionist in our thinking that we fail to understand the bigger picture.

Should science be the only yardstick by which we measure ‘the truth’?

The above article in the Spectator is light hearted but demonstrates that placebo has always had it’s place in medicine. (Dr McGill sounds like the sort of GP I’d like!). The jury is still out for me with regards to homeopathy. I’m also skeptical about the benefits of some commonly prescribed mainstream medications. I do however strongly believe that people should have the right to choose which form of medicine suits them.

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