Friday, May 25, 2007

Make Mine a Double

Radio Lab on WNYC is available as a podcast. Season three starts out with a discussion of the Placebo Effect. For example, the doctor tells you that this light blue pill will make you better, and it does. Only, there are no active ingredients in the pill. You got better, at least to some extent, because you thought you'd get better.

Now, you might think that a doctor who gave you a sham pill is a quack. He doesn't know what he's doing. He's selling moon shine - that is, something you could have gotten without him. But the deal is, you actually got better.

And even the medical doctors who have real training, and are backed up with real medicine, put on their white coat and talk to their patients in a way that convinces them that they'll get better.

Now i listened to this show while sick. I stayed home from work. I'm not paid when i stay home, so when i stay home, it means i'm on death's door. And when i only feel terrible, i go back to work. After all, if i'd stay home, i'd feel terrible, and if i go to work, i'll feel terrible. I may as well get paid for it.

I'm not a good salesman. I've mentioned the bagel club. For me, giving out bagels and donuts for free is a hard sell. And, i'm very skeptical. That means the story has to be really good for me to have any chance of believing it. Double blind clinical trials are the gold standard. Pray to Jesus just isn't going to do it. I can't be hypnotized because, well, i don't believe in hypnotism.

So, imagine that i'm cheap. I don't want to go to the doctor for antibiotics. I have an idea how long it will take me to get over things, and, for the most part, antibiotics don't make me well any quicker. But, i do want to get something that will help. What do i do?

Here are my cures for the common cold. Drink lots of water. In fact, drink a gallon of water a day. You can drink more water if it's room temperature. A gallon is alot. It's probably twice as much as you think it is. So keep a full glass in front of you all day. Drink it. Linus Pauling advocated high doses of vitamin C. I've not found that mega dose pills help at all. Nor an orange. But a pink grapefruit seems to help. Eat the whole thing, without sugar. Avoid sugar altogether when ill. Get lots of sleep. As much as you can. Use any trick you can to get to sleep. Lie perfectly still and try not to think. Turn on a boring radio program and close your eyes. Whatever works. Shower. Brush your teeth. Sore throat? Gargle with aspirin. Gargle with salt. Gargle with mouthwash. Gargle with chloraseptic.

I'm not sure that any of these things work. That is, i don't know that they have any external helping ability. But they feel like they work. And, if you do them all day long, you should at least get the placebo effect on and off all day long. And the placebo effect is real. It's real chemicals that your body releases. And there are no side effects. And, in double blind clinical trials, it really works.

It's mind over matter, after all.

Steve Martin said it best: "I'd like one of those new double strength placeboes, please".

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