Archive for August, 2010

In praise of placebos

August 25th, 2010 No comments

Up until recently, as far as I can tell, medical experts in the West have debated the worth of acupuncture as a treatment, often stating that it provides nothing more than a placebo effect. (Sorry, I’m not going to cite sources since this is a blog of opinion, not a scholarly paper.)

As I peruse the occasional article or study such as the Langevin report, I begin to wonder: what does the western medical community consider a valid treatment? If a placebo treatment achieves the desired result of pain relief (for example), isn’t it as valid as one by which the mechanism is known, such as a dose of aspirin?

This led me to the realization that the mechanism of the effect within the body must be known or understood for the treatment to be deemed effective: if we know why it works, then it works. This creates a feeling of security in the researchers, a trust in the treatment. Now I suppose that in the absence of a known mechanism, the testimony of test subjects alone is about as reliable as the testimony of witnesses in court, and this testimony must be influenced by factors such as a desire to please the lab technicians, whether they are present or not. (Again, all this is my opinion, and not the result of extensive study. It’s Disclaimer Day, folks!)

Regarding acupuncture, the Langevin study seems to be discovering the mechanism behind it. In a nutshell, the study found that properly administered acupuncture involves a tenting of the skin after insertion (by pulling the needle slightly)and a subsequent twisting of the needle. The tenting signals that the needle has found a grip in the underlying fascia, and the subsequent twisting pulls specific fibres in the fascia. This pulling can release certain bound fibers in the fascia, but it also causes the release of certain chemicals in the body that have an effect some distance from the actual needle. This would explain how needling your arm can affect your liver, for example. Check out the study if you like.

But back to placebos. We’ve all heard how stress can affect your body in very real ways, and many of us have reached the logical conclusion that the mind can affect the body in a negative fashion. So why not in a positive fashion? Why can’t the mind release chemicals that help the body heal? And yes, though we’re not salamanders that can replace a leg, our bodies have evolved to heal themselves in a number of ways. If one continues to doubt the effects of the mind on the body, consider that the mind affects the body all the time when it causes physiological reactions to move muscles. Perhaps we only differ on the extent of the mind’s effect on the body?

Finally, this all came about because of an article in today’s Globe and Mail about acupuncture. Here’s the quote that mades me warm and fuzzy:

“… the goal of what they [acupuncture believers] call integrative medicine is to harness the body’s power to heal itself. It doesn’t matter whether that power is stimulated by a placebo effect or by skillful placement of needles”.

In short, I think the placebo effect has gotten a bad rap, given the power of the mind to direct the body to heal itself. Maybe I’d better do some studying and get back to you.

(Here’s a dissenting opinion , of which there are many. Personally, I think the dissenting writer believes that what we can measure with our currently available tools defines all reality, but I’ll let you decide. To me, the responsible scientist knows his current limits, but that discussion is best left to another day.)

Categories: interdisciplinary Tags:


August 20th, 2010 1 comment

This is interesting.

High speed video or film cameras shoot at a high rate of speed, capturing 2,000 frames per second in some cases. When the footage is played back at the normal rate of (roughly) 30 frames per second, it plays back in slow motion. An event that happens in a hundredth of a second could play out at about 20 seconds … in slow motion, because of all the frames that were captured.

Apparently, some believe that this is how our memory works under extreme stress. Have you ever recalled an event, possibly when your body was under threat, where it seemed that it was happening in slow motion? I know I have, although the threat wasn’t a big deal. Well, it seems that during the event, your mind kicked into high gear, recalling much more sensory data than usual, effectively capturing more images of the event. When you recalled it after the event, you recalled it as happening in slow motion because you’re not in the event any more, and you’re processing at your normal rate. Of course, it didn’t happen in slow motion, but that’s how you recall it.

Here’s what intrigues me: what if we could train our mind to do that? What if we could heighten our senses and see in greater detail, temporally and spatially? I wonder if test pilots such as Chuck Yeager process information that way. At the very least, I believe that with practices such as meditation, we can calm ourselves so we pay less attention to the distractions that take up so much of our memory space and our attention. Hm.

Here’s the article.

Categories: interdisciplinary Tags:

The Fasting Track

August 15th, 2010 2 comments

While tidying up today, I ran across a copy of Utne Magazine from 2007. Before tossing it, I was caught by a headline: Detox Diets DEBUNKED.

Here’s the online version, but for you loyal readers, I’ll quote a sentence of interest to RnR:

It sounds boring … but plain old moderation, exercise and clean living will go farther toward improving your health than fasting.

Naturally, I haven’t done exhaustive studies on the worth of fasting. However, as is true with many of the arguments I make, I support this one because it is difficult to argue against. I believe that many people do a detox to allow them (in their minds) to consume those toxins the rest of the year: consume and detox, consume and detox. Now there must be some toxins in our environment that are difficult to eliminate (air pollution, for example), but when it comes to food, I believe we can eliminate much of those with a change in diet from processed foods to real foods.

As for the historical validity of fasting, I believe that its roots are spiritual. The fasting ascetic attempts to lose attachments, achieve some kind of focus, experience humility or reaffirm a devotion to his/her spirituality. That’s all well and good, but I don’t think it has anything to do with detoxifying, because in the past a) today’s toxins weren’t present in ancient diets, and b) can you see the average non-ascetic person with an unpredictable food supply actually fasting for health reasons? I can’t.

Oh, and the Utne article makes another good point:

We were born with our own detoxification systems: our liver and our kidneys.

So why not just eat right and let them do their job, I wonder?

Categories: a little clarity, nutrition Tags:

No more normal?

August 2nd, 2010 No comments

According to this article, we may be heading towards a world, where, at least in the eyes of mental health professionals, nobody is normal: virtually every behavior will be a disorder.

One one hand, imagine the freedom. No pressure to be normal, since none of us are. Whee! But … it’s not quite that simple. If every behavior is a sign of a disorder, then we’re all … abnormal. And we need to take drugs, of course, to treat our pet disorder … so we can be normal.


So few us of us are born normal, now: almost all of us have disorders. But the only way we can become normal is to take drugs to treat the disorders, right? So the only people who will be normal will be those who will be on drugs … generously supplied for a fee, of course.

Of course, there are some genuine situations where a person acts a particular way, and “get over it” or “suck it up” doesn’t help the person. (for example, Asperger’s) However, advice, support, environment changes, physical activity, diet changes can all help a great number of people whose behavior reduces their potential or quality of life in some way …

… but I’m wary of the rush to drugs as a solution, just as I’m wary of rushing to solve any complex problem with a purchase.

Call me crazy.

Categories: modern life Tags: