LOS ALTOS, CA, June 13, 2013 – According to a study published in the June edition of Health Affairs, the latest and presumably greatest drugs being developed these days aren’t nearly as great as their predecessors. Although those who conducted the study remain uncertain as to why, it could be that the answer they’re looking for is staring them, and us, right in the face.
After reviewing over 300 placebo-controlled trials reported in four leading medical journals between 1966 and 2010, researchers discovered “a significant decline” in the efficacy rate of active treatments when compared to placebos.
How significant? Between 1966 and 1990, you could expect drugs to perform roughly four times better than a placebo. Since 2001, that figure has dropped to only 36 percent.
Although the study didn’t mention this, these figures might have been even more compelling were it not for the fact that many placebo-controlled trials are preceded by a “washout phase,” during which everyone involved in the study is given a pharmacologically inert pill. Anyone who responds favorably is automatically eliminated, having exhibited a higher than average susceptibility to the placebo.
So how do researchers explain this dramatic drop in effectiveness?
Maybe it’s that “many of the easiest-to-discover effective treatments… have already been found,” as was suggested by Dr. Mark Olfson, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University and lead researcher on this study.
Maybe people these days people are simply more likely to respond to placebos compared to people 20 or 30 years ago, as was suggested by Ted Kaptchuk, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of their program in placebo studies.
Or maybe – just maybe – it’s the drugs themselves that aren’t the curative agent we think they are.
If there’s one thing that every placebo-controlled trial has shown us, it’s that the patient’s thought exercises a considerable amount of control over the body. Even if this doesn’t disprove the efficacy of drugs, it does point to an aspect of healing that, if better understood, could possibly displace the use of drugs altogether.
While this may sound absurd, it would be equally absurd to marginalize or even dismiss a phenomenon that most doctors and medical researchers agree is very real and apparently effective.
So what is there to fill the void should we ever find ourselves living in a world where drugs are no longer the primary form of treatment, a world where, perhaps in another 20 or 25 years, drugs are only performing ten percent better, five percent better, or maybe no better than placebos?
All we’d be left with is the thought of the patient, leaving the individual to choose what they feel is the most effective mental stimulant.
For a growing number of people these days, the power of a divinely inspired prayer is already proving to be a reliable choice. Not the kind of prayer that’s content to plead with some unknown deity to do something he or she or it wouldn’t be inclined to do otherwise, but a prayer – a frame of mind, really – that is willing to exchange a limited, matter-based view of things for a more divinely inspired or spirit-based view.
While this approach to health care may not be for everyone, it could very well be a harbinger of things to come, confirming what medical study after medical study has been hinting at for decades, namely, the undeniable influence our thoughts can have over our physical well being – a significant discovery indeed.
Eric Nelson’s columns on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local, regional, and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California.
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