I was recently lecturing at a naturopathic medical conference and asked one of my colleagues whether we as a profession are prepared for the news that a person’s response to homeopathic remedy is a placebo response. I rightfully assume that the unique relationship between an empathetic homeopath and a patient that has been heard and cared for creates an effective and amplified placebo response. My colleague stated simply that she doubts we are ready for it, “There are some doctors that that are pretty strong believers”, she added.
People who have seen me over the past twenty years realize that while I am fully trained to apply homeopathy, I do not use it now. My skepticism keeps me rooted in science. Ted Kaptchuk, in 2010 spoke to this question through a wonderfully novel study. He researched the placebo response for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
This study, even though it is several years old, needs to be cited again. This was a group of women with significant IBS. One half were given an evaluation, filled in forms, met with doctors and staff and told they were the control group and would receive nothing—30% improvement was seen in this group. Yes, being heard and cared for provides a healing response.
The other half of participants received the same amount of time with the doctors and staff, the same evaluations but they were told that their condition has an emotional basis, and that placebos effectively activate that self-healing response. This group was therefore given a pill bottle that truthfully stated “PLACEBO”. Participants were told to take one placebo tablet twice daily—about 65% of people taking the placebo had substantial improvement in their IBS over the 3-month course of the study.
I wish there had been another arm within the study, one that gave the emotionally suggestive message but no placebo pill. Would people have responded to the suggestion without the smoke and mirrors of placebo (or homeopathic remedy if that had been used). I was a good homeopath I have to admit, but there is no way I cured more than 65% of the time. In fact, most great homeopaths I have studied with bat about 30%. Huh, maybe a better suggestion needs to be practiced when a “remedy” is given.
Why am I dredging up this cool study? We need to be reminded that the placebo response is in our power every minute of every day. Suggestive messages come from our friends, media headlines and from us. If we keep those messages empowering, we have the potential of resolving 2/3 of nearly any problem that faces us. We have the capacity to impact so many hormones and neurotransmitters with suggestion and lifestyle. I suggest all healthcare practitioners remember that how a disease or condition is framed – the suggestion to the patient is of greater importance than a pill in a bottle.
- Kaptchuk TJ. Placebos without Deception: A Randomized Controlled Trial in Irritable Bowel Syndrome. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0015591
Here is an example of Two Ways to Frame Type 2 diabetes
The Disempowered Medical Management Model
“You have type 2 diabetes – a degenerative condition where your body produces inadequate insulin over time and sugars elevate causing complications and disease. But fortunately, we have drugs that can manage the diabetes process and lower the risk of disease complications.” [If this sounds good, ask your local hospital for the nearest referral]
The Empowered Message that Provides the Motivation to Cure:
“Given your lifestyle right now, you are expressing insulin resistance so much that it is called type 2 diabetes. You have an efficient storage metabolism and are well-prepared for a strenuous world with few available dietary starches. I can help you find a way to live in accordance with your exceptional and perfect ancestral trait.” [If this rings true, get The Blood Code and Read-on]