Saturday, December 10, 2011

Who said it first?

Here is a link to a fascinating story from this week's New Yorker about what they call "the placebo effect."

I wrote a couple of posts in September about our contemporary belief in pills: Pills and Pills and Soapbox.

Naturally I'm tickled to see the New Yorker publish an article about the phenomenon.

In most cases, the larger the pill, the stronger the placebo effect. Two pills are better than one, and brand-name pills trump generics. Capsules are generally more effective than pills. There is even evidence to suggest that the color of medicine influences the way one responds to it: colored pills are more likely to relieve pain than white pills; blue pills help people sleep better than red pills; and green capsules are the best bet when it comes to anxiety medication.

I always love it when science finds its way back to mystery, a word that describes the essence of every kind of healing. We healers do what we can, but no healer can deny that our best efforts work sometimes but not at other times. No one knows why, and I am dubious that our current religion - science - will provide the answers we seek since healing itself is impossible to quantify. Its essence goes way beyond method, delivery and consistency. Healing is a wild force of nature, like magnetism perhaps. It can not be controlled!

The New Yorker article is actually more of a profile of Ted Kaptchuk than an exhaustive study of the placebo effect. Uncle Ted is a fascinating person who, other than the fact that he's blind to his faith in science, is a top notch thinker and investigator. He wrote the definitive texts for beginning students of Chinese medicine (in the United States) but then gave up practicing Chinese medicine twenty years ago because he couldn't force the discipline to fit within the pristine standards of science. I think if he persists in trying to cram the art and mystery of healing into the rational, cold-hearted confines of science, he is doomed to a whole lot of frustration and confusion. For instance he thinks placebos could be used medically, prescribed, I mean. Insurance companies making money from snake oil? Holy cow I hope not! But I salute him for trying to understand, rationally, the elaborate mystery of healing. You go, Uncle Ted!

All healing modalities feel like they're working when we believe they will. But even a pure faith will not cure everything. We are impossibly complicated, marvelous, mysterious beings as are our illnesses, dis-eases and recoveries from these conditions.

Life is never boring, hey? Shalom.


ellen abbott said...

liked this a lot.

Kerry said...

How fascinating. Colors do have an effect on us for sure; interior decorators have known this. But in medicine? Wow!

Angela said...

My Bulgarian student just told me a story of her childhood. When she was little, she had hepatitis and was going to be rushed to a hospital when things deteriorated and the doctors in town feared for her life. So her mother sat beside her bed and read her a story, and she looked out of the window. There she saw a cloud angel, praying for her (with a halo, all to be indentified as an angel, for the child). And she showed her mother, but she couldn`t see the angel. But the next morning the little girl was healed. No more hospital, the doctors were amazed (shocked). But that is what I call faith.
Blue pills, praying, a sudden joy, anything can heal you. If only doctors understood this! Spreading confidence even helps!
Great post, Reya.