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How do I know what is a placebo effect?
Aug 3, 2010

I have been reading about the placebo effect. Some of us are taking supplements and say they are helping us. Are they really helping us or is it the placebo effect? How long does the placebo effect last, Nelson?

Response from Mr. Vergel

The phenomenon of an inert (inactive) substance resulting in a patient's medical improvement is called the placebo effect. The phenomenon is related to the perception and expectation which the patient has that if the substance is viewed as helpful, it can heal.

The placebo effect is very powerful. Our minds have a very important effect on symptoms, specially when it comes to depression, fatigue, appetite, sexual function, and pain. It is estimated that around 35% of the population is susceptible to the "placebo effect" and may have health benefits from just taking a "dummy " pill. However, that effect usually disappears after some time.

The placebo effect is even more important to consider in studies done with supplements. Most are not placebo controlled, so we can do tell the difference between what is the effect of the mind and hope versus the effect of the supplement itself. That is why it is important to ask anyone who makes claims on a supplement about where they got their data. Does it come from placebo controlled, randomized studies or open label non placebo controlled ones?

The abuse of how supplement companies make health claims goes beyond using non placebo controlled data. Some companies quote studies done in mice and extrapolate the results to humans!

When I want to consider using a supplement that may not have placebo controlled data behind it, I create my own study of "one patient" and measure variables that I want to affect before and after a certain period after starting the product. For example, cholesterol, blood sugar, liver enzymes, weight, waist circumference, energy levels, etc can be easily measured to asses your own benefits. At the end of the day, most doctors I talk to say that if the patient believes that a complementary therapy they are using is helping them, then that is all that matters (as long as there are no negative interactions with HIV drug blood levels, which is unfortunately an area that has little data in HIV)

Nelson



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