The art and science of medicine is a continuously growing field of knowledge. In spite of the vast developments that have transpired through the ages in the history of healing, scientists have barely uncovered everything there is to know about how the healthy body functions and how it reacts to disease. We cannot assume that what we know now is sufficient to solve our common problems in health or that in some cases, there is no remedy for yet, unsolved puzzles of incurable disease.
The natural process of healing is something that occurs in all creatures, and it involves various mechanisms that repair, restore, and preserve the organism as well as ensure that the species survives and in many cases, propagates. These processes that promote restoration of health after injury or disease are usually spontaneous, so that man usually does not need medical attention to recover from everyday physical stress or injury. Sometimes, however, man uses treatments to cure or relieve some ailments, using not only pills, but various other substances, manipulations and interventions. If one asks how stomachaches can be cured, one will expect to get several types of responses from mothers, grandmothers, doctors, nurses, and neighbors. But how does one know which treatment actually works? In reality, very few treatments are subjected to rigorous investigation to determine if they are really effective and many of these may prove to be placebos.
What is Placebo?
Placebo comes from the Latin word, which means “I will please.” This word is found in the Latin Vulgate translation of Psalm 114, verse 9 in the Bible, which reads, Placebo Domino in regione vivorum (“I will please the Lord in the land of the living”). The early 19th century medical dictionary by Quincy defined a placebo as any medicine that was “adapted more to please than to benefit the patient.” Even with the seemingly negative connotation attached to placebos, they continued to be popularly used in medicine, and were often called bread pills or sugar pills.
Today, pharmaceutical drugs are at the core of our healing rituals. Most physicians rely on scientific research to understand the pathophysiology of disease and to prescribe necessary treatments. Many of these evidence-based research use randomized placebo-controlled trials (RCTs) as the gold standard to test the efficacy of new treatments and clinical interventions. These clinical trials compare the effects of active treatment on a group of participants with that of a placebo group, whereby, neither the doctors nor the patients know what treatment is actually administered to a participant (‘double blinding’). The superior effect of a drug is often believed to be manifested as the treatment effect, while the unspecific effects of placebo are the additive effects. The problem, however, with this model is that the placebo effect may occur in both treatment arms and the patients' expectation for improvement with the chance of receiving active treatment...