Dr. Nicholas’ Corner: “The Sugar Pill” Effect: The Harmless Pill That Is More Than Meets The Eye

Dr. Nicholas Pediaditakis, founder of Alkyonis Mental Health Center, Raleigh NC.
Dr. Nicholas Pediaditakis, founder of Alkyonis Mental Health Center, Raleigh NC.

By Nicholas Pediaditakis, MD


All the doctors through the centuries have known it and they used it. We still do, but in a different way now. In the past we would give literally a pill of a harmless powder to our worrying patients and tell them that they will feel well by the next day. The pill was harmless and completely without any active ingredients — usually only sugar; and yet, the suffering people would get well while were blessing the doctor’s wisdom and even more important they will continue to be well. But how come?

Well,  humans have built in our nature — among many other qualities — the ability to assign to an outside agent — whether a pill, a magic word, a special prayer to their deity, even a special movement of their body, mumbling over and over a word like a mantra, as they call it — while at the same time, we tend to rank some of our fellow citizens as leaders, wise men, savants, and especially religious leaders whatever the religion they represent with powers they may not possess but we believe they do. Furthermore, and that’s the strange thing, we then turn around and let these magic powers assigned to them by us to influence us — often dramatically — for our benefit or even detriment (hexing). We are able to do that because we are social beings ready to give and receive help whether actual or psychological. We call it solace.

Doctors and leaders of whatever kind are well aware of it and they know how to reinforce the phenomenon with a special dress, movements, or chanting (like the white jacket of a doctor, complete with their stethoscope wrapped around their neck, the chanting of the religious people in the language of their own particular religion, often dressed in a special garment, and the leaders with special symbolic declarations like “we will defend our sacred heritage and we will die for the flag” and such other code words). This particular benevolent effect was used to our benefit by the medical profession when doctors had time to listen empathetically with warm concern, care, and reassuring words knowing that a good portion of patients will get well anyway, being sped up by the reassurance and the empathy we have shown for their predicaments.

But, no more. Nowadays doctors are busy collecting information in the computer while hurriedly interrogate the patients, hardly looking at them or having time for an encouraging reassuring word. Instead they usually, maybe 99% of the time, offer (what else): pills. And pills we take. Patients often take ten or fifteen different kinds a day amounting to often 30 pills a day. The majority of these pills, though often helpful, have also severe side effects and their effectiveness is limited. The patients often end up feeling worse than they started with, wobbly, dizzy, with pains in their muscles, constipation, and difficulties to sleep ending up again at the doctor’s office asking for more pills.

This is particularly true for medicines given for depression whose ability to help is often only 20% as a cause of their improvement, while the rest is due to the recuperative power of our body as well as the assurance and empathic interaction with their doctor or counselor. This later practice should be used much more often with fewer pills given. And this is a pity since, if this pharmaco-mania added to the national epidemic in obesity and problems with cholesterol and secondary diabetes it becomes a health nightmare leaving our patients un-helped.

This mysterious phenomenon mentioned above has a name. It’s called the placebo effect — hardly studied and only is taken into account  in research programs (“double blind protocol”) to verify the usefulness of a particular investigative medicine.

Copyright © 2017 by Nicholas Pediaditakis, MD

For more information on Dr. Pediaditakis, visit his Facebook page. Dr. Nicholas’ blog may be read at chroniclersofthesoul.com.

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