When a Pseudoscientific Remedy Makes a Patient Feel Better
I was trained in Western Medicine where surgery and pharmaceuticals were all that was important. Over the years my beliefs have changed and so have those of the medical community. In many ways Western medicine is adopting the beliefs of the Eastern medicine philosophies which I feel is a big step forward in the right direction.
When it comes to benign diseases I have no issue with patients trying various non-Western medicine techniques (even pseudoscientific remedies) to help them. I have many patients tell me that they cut out a certain food or switched to an ‘all natural’ ointment or supplement which helped to relieve or minimize their symptoms. First I look up the ingredients of the products they are using there to make sure there is nothing detrimental in the ingredients (laxatives, steroids, etc.). On many occasions I find that there is nothing in the products being used that I feel would be of any benefit. Since the product is working I will tell the patient to keep using it as it doesn’t matter why it is working as long as it is working. This is known as the ‘placebo effect’.
The placebo effect has been around for a long time. The powers that be took this aspect of medicine out of medicine in the hospitals many years ago as it was felt that using a benign product with no treatment value on a patient was unethical. I never understood this. If a patient addicted to narcotics states that they felt better after getting a shot of a pain killer (actually saline as the placebo) does this really do harm to the patient? A shot of saline is innocuous and it helped the patient feel better. It also prevented them from getting one more does of an addicting medication. If used correctly ‘placebos’ can be very beneficial. Patients are using placebos everyday without harm.
Medicine is both an Art and a Science. In my opinion 90% of medicine is an ‘Art’ and the remaining 10% is a ‘Science’. The placebo affect is a part of the “Art” of medicine which over many years worked very well. It is now gone in the hospitals. If a patient uses a product that is innocuous but benign and it works for them (placebo effect) than in my opinion this is a good thing.