Monday, June 22, 2009

Mind Over Matter - the Placebo Effect

The placebo effect in medicine is now an established fact. If you could fool the brain to think that the thing you are swallowing is actually a high potency drug instead of sugar laced caffine, the brain triggers appropriate hormones and body defence systems to drive away the disease. This much is known.

But I was pretty much zapped when I read about placebo in surgery. This is from Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely ...

But on day in 1955, a cardiologist in Seattle, Sr. Leonard Cobb, and a few colleagues became suspicious. Was it really an effective procedure? Did it really work? ... To carry out this test, Dr. Cobb performed performed the traditional procedure on some of the patients, and placebo surgery on the others. The real surgery meant opening the patient up and tying up the internal mammary artery. In the placebo procedure, the surgeon merely cut into the patient's flesh with a scalpel, leaving two incisions. Nothing else was done.
The results were startling. Both the patients ... reported immediate relief from their chest pain. In both groups the relief lasted about three months ... Meanwhile the electrocardigrams showed no difference between those who had undergone the real operation and those who got the placebo operation.

Dan Ariely goes on to cite another such experiment.

Because of the nature of these surgeries and the ethical issues involved it is not possible to verify if placebo effect can replace most of the surgical procedures that are done today. But it certainly is impressive.

Just imagine you go for a bypass surgery. You come out hale and hearty as the surgeon declares that the bypass operation has been a great success. In actual fact, all the surgeon has done is made some deep cuts down your chest and stictched it up.
Your brain has been fooled and your body thinks everything is hunky-dory. Now, how cool is that.

Your main crib might be the cost ... there is no way one is going to pay a huge amount for one small cut. But the cost of the operation is part of the p;acebo surgery, you see. Because the surgoen has charged a huge amount, s/he must be good at what s/he does. See?

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