Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Anti Placebo Dilemma

At the outset I should say that my views reflect a peculiar set of circumstances that I was exposed to and are not to be generalized.  However, I feel that if the current forces of pharmaceutical industry and modern medical practice continue in an unthinking or unfeeling fashion, many others may find themselves facing the kind of dilemma that I did.

For conditions that doctors do not completely understand, patient are often showered with a torrent of medicine when a trickle might suffice.  While wading through the list, one may come across medicines which are considered beneficial in a supplementary way and so one agrees to take them.  But in my case, one of these generally benevolent chemicals produced a stomach irritation, which, I discovered, was a common side effect.  But I was urged to continue with it.  "Why?  What does it do for me?" I enquired, and the answers were quite vague.  Answers like "Because you need it", "It has a host of other benefits" and "For your purposes you may think of it as a kind of protein," did not satisfy my scientific curiosity.

I met my old, erudite doctor, who is quite familiar with this medication, having used it himself for other reasons.  He cautiously agreed that there appeared to be no reason for me to take this, though subtly reminding me, with a smile in his voice, that he was no longer treating me.

I turned to the internet.  Not to the open discussion forum, but the medical reviews and original research papers, several of which are fortunately accessible to the public.  I could find no compelling evidence to indicate that this medicine would be useful for me.  Most authors agreed that it wouldn't be harmful (except for the small side effects).  Certain specialists seemed to say the same thing on their web sites, but for every specific statement there were five vague statements about how this had now become a common part of certain prescriptions.  Statistics (I had no idea how they were generated but they made me think) indicated that much of the time the medicine was prescribed because other doctors were using it and there were no follow ups to ascertain whether it was actually benefitting people.  Perhaps there were no easy ways to check as no specific biochemical functions were being considered.  There was also, therefore, no clear dosage regulation, a standard dose was prescribed for everyone.  And so on.

Eventually I used my gut feeling, which of course, told me that it was important for me to go on enjoying my food, and to be able to digest and metabolize it properly.  So I stopped the medicine and now I feel fine from inside. It continues, however, to be listed in the long list of prescribed tablets, and my doctor feels fine.  This is as conducive a situation as any, to allow healing to take place of its own accord, from within.

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