Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Nothing Helps: A Placebo a Day

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Nothing Helps: A Placebo a Day

Article excerpt

When does a medical treatment qualify as a success? An article in The New England Journal of Medicine (July 14) suggests that the question may not be as straightforward as it seems.

Led by Michael E. Wechsler, researchers assembled four groups of asthma patients and gave them either albuterol inhalers, placebo inhalers, sham acupuncture, or nothing. (Sham acupuncture uses a trick needle, held in place with tape, that collapses and doesn't penetrate the skin.) when the researchers tested the patients' lung function, the albuterol--a standard treatment for asthma--was shown to have brought about a marked improvement, whereas the placebos and nonintervention had had no effect.

The patients themselves, however, told a different story. Half of those who used the albuterol reported feeling better. But so did nearly half of those who got the placebo inhaler or the sham acupuncture. By contrast, only a fifth of those who got no treatment said they felt better. Wechsler and colleagues conclude that doctors should discount asthma patients' self-reports and rely instead on tests.

Anthropologist Daniel E. Moerman isn't so sure. In an editorial in the same issue of the journal, he points out that placebos have been shown to alleviate scores of ailments. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.