For years alternative medicine has inadvertently benefitted from positive placebo effects. An occasional benefit of placebo by a homeopathic or acupuncture treatment has allowed quacks to claim a benefit or even a "cure". Now these quacks are actually claiming it is their snake-oil that triggers the placebo effect and is in part or wholly responsible for the alleged "cure".
Neuroscientist Fabrizio Benedetti has been studying the placebo effect for 30 years and is director of medicine and the physiology of hypoxia at Plateau Rosa Laboratories in Switzerland. He has discovered this devious new ploy of quack "doctors" duping the unsuspecting and in some cases causing death.
What is the placebo effect?
"The placebo effect describes how the mere belief and expectation of receiving a drug may produce a benefit, such as a reduction in pain. Albeit strange at first sight, the placebo effect is based on profound and fascinating mechanisms in the human brain, and highlights the power of attention given to a patient by a caregiver. As a neuroscientist, I have been working on understanding these mechanisms for 30 years, alongside other researchers around the world who specialize in everything from biochemistry to physiology, genetics to brain imaging. What has emerged is an understanding of how the mere expectation of a therapeutic benefit can activate a variety of chemicals in the human brain, such as pain-relieving opioids and cannabinoids, as well as pleasure-enhancing dopamine. Placebos, a doctor’s words and drugs can all share some common mechanisms of action."
Misconceptions and blatant lies:
"As far as we know, placebos do not cure, but can sometimes improve quality of life. Research tells us that placebos can reduce symptoms like pain and muscle rigidity for sufferers of Parkinson’s disease, for example, but they don’t affect the progression of the disease — the degeneration of brain cells keeps advancing. There is plenty of confusion on this point and unfortunately many claim that they can cure virtually all illnesses with placebos."
Fresh new onslaught of fake cures and pseudo-science:
"The scientific advances in understanding placebo are fascinating. But one unfortunate outcome of all this work is that profit-seeking companies and individuals now have a new weapon: It is no longer necessary to demonstrate the effectiveness of their proposed therapies; it is enough to assert that these work because of the placebo effect. I receive myriad eccentric proposals for new therapies, ranging from talismans and concoctions to mascots and weird rituals. Their inventors claim that these are capable of inducing substantial health benefits and often seek my endorsement. These proposals have stepped up sharply in recent years. Sadly, the science of the placebo effect is fueling this new breed of pseudoscience."
Preying on the vulnerable:
"These marketers often overstate the size of the possible response, claim to provide a 'cure' rather than pain relief or incorrectly suggest that only their own expensive products will have this effect. Even worse, they may present the products as an alternative to more effective traditional medications for serious conditions such as cancer. In other words, they prey on the vulnerable by making undeliverable promises, purportedly backed by the science of placebo.
"Even if taking a placebo can reduce symptoms such as pain, this isn’t always the best course of action. An apparently trivial pain may, for example, be the first sign of something far more serious. Treating the pain alone may prevent diagnosis by a physician or delay important medical treatments."
The science of placebos is fueling quackery https://knowablemagazine.org/article/society/2022/science-placebos-fuelling-quackery
Deadly deceit and clever posturing of alternative medicine "doctors":
"The crucial point here is that when hard science started investigating placebo effects, it unconsciously produced a shift in quackery thinking. In fact, charlatans are becoming more and more aware that their bizarre interventions could work through a placebo effect. Indeed, whereas hard science has so far denied any scientific basis for nonconventional therapies, now the very same hard science certifies that the placebo effect has scientific grounds. Therefore, quacks are no longer interested in showing that their pseudo-interventions work; rather, they justify their use on the basis of the possibility that these bizarre interventions may induce strong placebo effects."
A world-renowned placebo researcher asks, “Does placebo research boost pseudoscience?” https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/a-world-renowned-placebo-researcher-asks-does-placebo-research-boost-pseudoscience/
Nuts and bolts of how the deception works:
"The value of alternative medicine lies in the lengthy encounters with providers who make patients feel supported and listened to, who give them confident explanations (usually false) of exactly what is wrong, and who confidently promise to fix the problem.
"She (author on subject) interviews a 'healer' who seems to have the whole package of everything placebo researchers say makes for an effective therapeutic encounter: meaningful attention, expression of empathy, listening skills, earnest eye contact, steady projection of confidence, and an office adorned with a suggestive assembly of symbols.
"On a visit to a Psychosomatic Medicine clinic in Germany, she finds that patients are seldom 'cured' but they develop a sense of control, empowerment, improved self-esteem, and more self-confidence. If alternative medicine lies are able to evoke a placebo response that produces healing, exposing the truth should allow the healing to continue just as the mouse’s revelation to Dumbo allowed him to keep flying. But that’s not the way it works. Placebos are not powerful, and the myths that alternative medicine practitioners feed patients are more acceptable to them than a truth that will require them to reject strongly held beliefs. Desperate patients seek out confident, empathetic practitioners, even if the treatments they offer are based on total nonsense."
The Magic Feather Effect: Placebos and the Power of Belief in Alternative Medicine https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/the-magic-feather-effect-placebos-and-the-power-of-belief-in-alternative-medicine/
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