My Favorite Medicine: Placebo

I love placebos. They’re my most favorite drug in the world. Part of my love, no doubt, comes from an episode of M*A*S*H , which Wikipedia notes is episode 24 of the 6th season, “Major Topper.” In this episode, a shortage of morphine leads the fine doctors of 4077 to count on the placebo effect to help the wounded.

When I worked at a psych hospital, there were a few vocal critics of homeopathic therapies. (By homeopathic, I’m specifically referring to those remedies with NDC codes including the range of Boiron pellets to Bach Flower Remedies.) This isn’t surprising on a few levels – first of all being that the medical establishment has it in their own best interests to poo-poo homeopathy, second being that homeopathic remedies have a heck of a lot of pseudo-science (and magical thinking) backing their efficacy. I wouldn’t dare say that homeopathic remedies have the same power and efficacy as modern pharmaceuticals, but one thing that they do have is the worst case scenario that is better than Big Pharm – at it’s worst, it just won’t work at all.

Not a bad side-effect, huh? Homeopathic remedies can often be used in conjunction with pharmaceuticals, can be combined together, and at best will work, and at worst, will have no effect, with no side-effects or interactions. The actual efficacy of homeopathic remedies is debatable, and may be attributed ONLY to the placebo effect. The third major argument is that it’s a waste of money to take a placebo. Maybe, the transaction of money, plus ingestion of the little sugar pills, is what makes you stave off that cold and flu or lower your anxiety.

Since I worked at Whole Foods, specifically with these remedies at my fingertips, I have tried a few of them and have found some work better for me than others. There’s actually a difference between how some remedies, for the same problem, work for me. For instance, Hyland’s – Calms Forte did not help me at all with getting to sleep, but their other formulation, Insomnia works so well that I sometimes wonder if there’s a secret narcotic ingredient. It could be that my own expectations of efficacy has influenced my body’s response to the placebo. I did read an article, which I can’t find right now, that showed that the expectations of a medication/placebo can influence the reaction a person has, including doing the opposite of what the person may expect.

The past six months have been allopathic-medication heavy. I appreciate the need for modern medicine, and definitely appreciate the need to use it when appropriate. When I was discharged from the ER with a 15 page document telling me the full dangers of my new medication regimen, I both understood the need to take the medication as prescribed, and longed for the simplicity of my ‘bos. During those first few months, I took full advantage of my Bach Flower Remedies, which are, by far, some of the most ridiculous homeopathic remedies around. The way I understand, these concoctions, in brandy, are pretty much just the dew off of specific flowers carrying a vibrational energy that is conducive to emotional health.

I’m fond of them, nevertheless.

Bach Essence Star of Bethlehem
Bach Essence Aspen
Rescue Remedy Sleep

I don’t go for that woo-woo stuff, mostly cos my belief in the supernatural is that it’s all in the mind. However, I’ll take the vibrational properties of flower essences over getting hooked on Xanax any day. (Disclaimer: there is a medical purpose for Xanax, but doctors need to be very careful in doling it out, and need a defined exit strategy. That’s another post for another time, though.)

“Non-profit” Hospitals in Seattle

KUOW has a lovely piece on the profits of some of Seattle’s non-profit hospitals. Not surprising, but Swedish Medical Center (which is currently on my sh*t-list) is one of the hospitals they talk about.

Nurses at Swedish start at about $25 an hour. But for top doctors and executives at hospitals like Swedish, the paychecks dwarf that figure.

KUOW has learned that 15 nonprofit hospital leaders in the Seattle area earned at least $1 million in 2007. This elite group includes the CEOs of Swedish, Providence, Virginia Mason, Group Health, Seattle Children’s and MultiCare in Tacoma. Another three dozen hospital officials in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties earned at least half a million that year.

I think the question we need to be asking, when we’re talking about health care reform, is where is the money going? I mean this from every single point, from the doctor’s time and his liability insurance, education, home, golf, etc. to the prescription meds or procedures – the elements to make them, legal costs, patents, etc. How much money does Astra-Zeneca spend on pens for doctors alone?

Maybe I’m the only one curious about this – but I think these are important things to ask when you’re asking for an overhaul.

The Story of Your Body


I remember once when I was a kid I saw a poster featuring Garfield. I remember it saying something about “Diet is just Die with a T.” There’s diets emphasizing this, that and eliminating everything else. And it’s all promoted as if one thing fit all. Where exactly does evolution fit into all this? Where it is obvious that American culture (super-size me and all) encourages obesity (well, that and that people live in suburbs, drive cars miles and miles to the “corner store” and rarely do any physical exercise), what about us as individuals with tons of evolutionary genetic heritage?

As for me, I know that my family heritage is rural. Craftspeople, tradespeople, farmers and shopkeepers. Also, there’s the poverty and walking up-hill both ways in the snow. A body that burns calories slowly, knows how to store for long times w/o food and has endurance would be helpful in lean, hard-working times. Some of the women at work call my body-type “thick.” And it’s true, I’m not scrawny woman. While I am overweight, I’ve got big bones. I’ve got my mother’s family’s hips, broad and solid. I was well nourished as a kid — perhaps over-nourished compared to my ancestors. Maybe I’m genetically built to be optimized for hard labor and lean times? I find that I’m not as jazzed by proteins, but I ADORE complex and simple carbs, stuff that is cheap and easy to get. Protien actually makes me more hungry, and I tend to eat more when proteins are involved. Funny, huh?

Jon is different, though. He NEEDS protein. A veggie diet leaves him starved. We’ve found a happy medium, for the most part.

Maybe weight loss, health maintenance and optimization for our lifestyles has nothing to do with what our current culture and science is telling us — maybe we need to ask ourselves, how did our parents grow up and eat and work? How did their parents live? Maybe that can serve as a guidance?

Of course — I have no scientific back up, but it’s an interesting thought.