Three recent stories lead me to my opening topic for the year: The value of open-mindedness. This characteristic — a state of receptiveness to new ideas — affects how we perceive and process information. It’s a quality I look for in my doctors, and which I admire especially in older people.
Piece #1 — On the brain’s maturity, flexibility and “cognitive fitness”
For the first piece, I’ll note a Dec 31 op-ed piece that appeared in the New YorkTimes: This Year, Change Your Mind, by Dr. Oliver Sacks, the neurologist and author. In this thoughtful essay, he considers the adult brain’s “mysterious and extraordinary” power to adapt and grow: “I have seen hundreds of patients with various deficits — strokes, Parkinson’s and even dementia — learn to do things in new ways, whether consciously or unconsciously, to work around those deficits.”
With appropriate and very-real respect, I question Sacks’ objectivity on this subject — he’s referred some of the most outstanding (i.e. exceptional) neurological cases in the world. And so it may be that his careful reports are perfectly valid but not representative; for most of us, the adult brain’s capacity to establish new circuitry for language learning or music appreciation may be limited. What his stories do show is that unimaginably strange things happen in our brains, at least occasionally. And maybe we should just accept that and take notes (as he does so carefully), and keep an open mind. Read more »
Placebos helped ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) even when patients knew that was what they were taking, a new study reports.
Researchers randomly assigned 80 patients with IBS to receive placebo pills (openly labeled as such) or no treatment over a three-week period. Patients taking placebos had significantly higher mean scores on the IBS Global Improvement Scale at 11 and 21 days, and also reported significant improvements in symptom severity and relief. The results of the study, which was funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, were published online Dec. 22 by PLoS ONE.
Anthony Lembo, M.D., a study coauthor, said in a press release that he didn’t expect the placebo to work. “I felt awkward asking patients to literally take a placebo. But to my surprise, it seemed to work for many of them,” he said.
Ted Kaptchuk, O.M.D., the study’s lead author, told the LA Times that a larger study needs to be done to confirm the findings, and said that he didn’t believe such effects would be possible “without a positive doctor-patient relationship.”
ACP Internist looked at placebos’ place in clinical practice in a 2009 article. (PLoS ONE, Public Library of Science, LA Times, ACP Internist)
On the car radio, I have several times happened upon “infomercial” programs touting the benefits of testosterone replacement therapy for men, broadcast by doctors who specialize in prescribing the drugs. They have lots of wonderful stories about men who feel younger, happier, and more vigorous because of their macho remedies. It’s a tribute to the power of the placebo.
I have been reviewing John Brinkley’s goat gland scam for a presentation on medical frauds. In an era before the isolation of the hormone testosterone, Brinkley transplanted goat testes into human scrotums in an attempt to treat impotence and aging. We are more sophisticated today — but not much. Longevity clinics and individual practitioners are offering testosterone to men as a general pick-me-up and anti-aging treatment. Their practice is not supported by the scientific evidence. Read more »
It’s boring to try to ferret out reliable health information from dry medical journals. It’s easier and more fun to watch a movie. A new movie promises to change the way you think about your health. To bring you breakthroughs that will transform your understanding of how to get well and stay well. To share the discoveries of leading researchers and health practitioners about miracle cures that traditional medicine can’t explain.
If this makes your baloney detector light up, good for you!
The Living Matrix: A Film on the New Science of Healing is an atrociously bad movie that falls squarely in the tradition of What the Bleep Do We Know? In his book Nonsense on Stilts, Massimo Pigliucci characterized the “Bleep” movie as “one of the most spectacular examples of a horribly tangled mess of science and nonsense,” and this new movie is more of the same. Bleep was just silly, but The Living Matrix is potentially dangerous because it might persuade patients to make poor decisions about their medical care. Read more »
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