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August 21, 2020 Friday 11:37:54 PM IST

Is the Tiny Sugar Pill Mightier than Cannon Ball?

Image by Kai Reschke for pixabay.com

I am of the tribe that was made to believe that pen is mightier than the sword.  After several years in the profession, I have seen many cursing themselves for believing so!  But in the same wavelength, can we say that the tiny sugar pill that your neighbourhood homeopath gives is mightier than the difficult to swallow cannon balls that the modern medicine practitioners give to their patients?
There are many reasons why patients especially children love to see a homeopath. For any disease, all the doc prescribes is two or three different types of sugar pills of course containing some medicine which is diluted several million times and according to modern medicine or evidence- based practitioners, no traces of any medicine will be left in it.
But visibly upset or surprised at more people popping up pills, the Lancet a reputed UK medical journal fired a cannon ball at homeopathy way back in 2005 stating that it was a pseudo science and it never had anything more than a 'placebo' effect. And what is this placebo effect? It is giving a pill without medicine in it and consumed by a patient or volunteer either knowingly or unknowingly. The pharma industry does placebo trials by giving a set of tablets or capsules containing the new molecules they discovered to one group of people and another set of empty tablets or placebos to another group of people. The changes in the metabolism of each group is studied, compared and analysed to find out the efficacy of the medicine.

The homeopaths had a tough time to counter Lancet because the arguments seemed so logical and convincing-  https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(05)67177-2/fulltext. Such bombshells would have easily destroyed any one but not homeopathy with a loyal following across the globe.  And, Prof Chathurbhuja Nayak,  Director of  Central Council for Research in Homeopathy, issued a strong rejoinder against Lancet and Ben Goldcare, an evidence based activist, who was quoted in the article. All these years,  the anti-homeopathy movement often said there was no scientific evidence in support of homeopathy and the Lancet article came handy for them.


Recently the Ministry of Ayush had recommended Arnica Arb, a homeopathic medicine as a prophylactic against Covid-19 and which again was dismissed as nonsense by the allopaths. The Ayush Ministry also recommended Unani and Ayurvedic medicines as prophylactic. How can homeopaths claim to have developed a medicine long ago against a virus that was only detected six months back? Very logical no doubt!

The Power of Placebo
However, there is some reason to cheer for the homeopaths and some soul searching needed by allopaths. New  findings from a team of researchers at Michigan State University (MSU), University of Michigan and Dartmouth College seems to give some ammunition to the homeopaths to fight with. For many 'evidence based activists', homeopathy was just a placebo but now new research shows placebo could be the real medicine!  The researchers have concluded that use of non-deceptive placebos where a patient is told that he or she is being given one, had a great impact on reducing emotional brain activity. According to Jason Moser, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at MSU, "Placebos are all about 'mind over matter'". Nondeceptive placebos were born so that you could possibly use them in routine practice. So rather than prescribing a host of medications to help a patient, you could give them a placebo, tell them it can help them and chances are-if they believe it can, then it will." 
The researchers concluded in an article in the renowned journal Nature Communications that non-deceptive placebos reduced participants self-reported emotional distress. It may also reduce electrical brain activity reflecting how much distress someone feels to emotional events and the reduction in emotional brain activity occurred within just a couple of seconds. "These findings provide initial support that nondeceptive placebos are not merely a product of response bias – telling the experimenter what they want to hear — but represent genuine psychobiological effects,” said Ethan Kross, co-author of the study and a professor of psychology and management at the University of Michigan.

The researchers are already following up on their data with a real-life nondeceptive placebo trial for COVID-19 stress.

More details here:

Is the anti-homeopathy and indigenous systems of medicine campaigns genuine or due to a lack of understanding of the philosophy behind it?  I leave it to the enlightened readers to ponder over.

In my childhood, my mother's shelf had all sort of half-consumed medicines from allopathy, homeopathy and even ayurvedic kashayams or arishtams all bought for the same type of ailments. I found she never had faith in any and hopped from one after the other not seeing any immediate results! The Bible talks about your faith that can move mountains. Am I not also hearing Nat King Cole sing ,"Faith can move mountains, Darling, you will see, I can move mountains, If you have faith in me."

Sreekumar Raghavan

Sreekumar Raghavan is an award-winning business journalist with over two and a half decades of experience in print, magazine and online journalism. A Google-certified Digital Marketing Professional, he specialises in content development for web, digital marketing and training, media relations and related areas. He is the recipient of MP Narayana Pillai Award for Journalism in 2001 and holds a bachelors degree in Economics and Masters Degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Kerala University.





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22/08/2020 11:12:24 IST
Sreekumar Raghavan: Dr Nair, Thank you for your views. Indeed real medicine has to be administered where required. My intention was to basically generate a healthy discussion on various forms of medicine and understand the philosophy behind it.
22/08/2020 10:01:40 IST
Dr Nair: If placebo can work why cannot the real medicine.Placebo may have an effect over mind as you said and some researchers hypothesised.But the real medicine then can have both real therapeutic effects plus placebo effect also as by the same logic,patient is not in a position to understand if it is placebo or real.Any way you cannot give placebo for acute pancreatitis or bipolar disorder or stroke or malignant hypertension .In all these life threatening scenarios you need modernmedicine or allopathy (as homeopaths call it.)