Drugs don't always work and doctors aren't always right. In the Feb. 8 edition of Newsweek magazine, science editor Sharon Begley reports something many of us already intuitively believed; that some drugs aren't effective and placebos can result in a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This article in particular looked at the efficacy of anti-depressants in helping alleviate some of the more serious symptoms in people suffering from various levels of depression and the conclusions were stunning. Significant research indicates that depressed people taking placebos are almost as likely to show improvement as those taking the actual medicine. (People taking anti-depressant medicine showed a slightly higher rate of reduced symptoms but not enough to be statistically significant.)
In several different drug trials, one group of volunteers were given the actual medicine and the control group was given a placebo, essential a sugar pill with no medicinal qualities at all. Those taking the sugar pill showed a reduction in symptoms just like those taking the actual medicine. This is where the self-fulfilling prophecy comes in. If you expect you're going to get better, often times you do; the classic mind over matter scenario. Not only does the placebo effect work for depression, it also works for hypertension, pain, Parkinson's disease, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and ulcers because placebos can trigger the production of the body's own biochemicals, such as opiates and dopamine, causing them to act as natural medications.
On the other hand, placebos DON'T work for illnesses like cancer, growth-hormone deficiency, high cholesterol, infertility and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Recent research has indicated similar results when treatment is combined with prayer. Those who pray about their condition while taking treatment show a higher rate of symptom reduction than those who don't pray. But like the placebo effect mentioned earlier, prayer doesn't work for all illnesses and maladies either. Prayer can't replace severed fingers, toes and limbs with new ones for example.
Similarly, all doctors are not created equal either. As in every other profession and occupation, there are good ones, mediocre ones and bad ones, determined by training, motivation, and skill. We've given doctors somewhat of a God complex in assuming that one is as good as the other and placing all of our faith and trust in their diagnosis and treatment of whatever ails us and sometimes that faith and trust is misplaced.
My mom and ex-wife are examples. They each believed their personal physicians could do no wrong and accepted anything and everything they said. Because of that they took no active role in their treatment at all; blindly accepting whatever their doctors said or recommended, even though both my mom and my ex are bright, educated people.
Doctors screw up. Doctors misdiagnose. And doctors make wrong treatment decisions. One of the reasons why the price of a doctor's visit continues to escalate is the rising cost of medical malpractice insurance. If doctors didn't make mistakes, there would be no need for medical malpractice insurance. But they DO make mistakes and sometimes people die or are disabled because of it.
Realizing that, we should all become more actively involved in the diagnosis and treatment of whatever ails us. Get a second opinion or even a third. Use your own skills to research your illness on the Internet and in the library and find out everything you can about it. We owe it to ourselves, our families, and our friends to make sure we're getting the best medical treatment available, whether it's medicine prescribed, treatment or surgery.
Because we only pass this way once.