(NaturalNews) A Wired UK article just told us a dirty little
secret that the pharmaceutical drug world would rather keep quiet. That
fact is: drugs are having a difficult time beating the placebo effect,
and increasingly so. In fact, they're finding the placebo effect is
getting stronger in people, making it more difficult for drugs to show
any improvement over it. The credit for the increased placebo effect
has been attributed to the increase in consumer advertising, which
makes many consumers "believe" more in the drugs and their effects.
the placebo effect is getting stronger, many widely distributed drugs
would have had a hard time getting approval to begin with, if they were
tested against today's placebo effect. Many drugs, notably Prozac, have
also been shown to falter when compared to placebo - after they're
already on the market.
A Saatchi & Saatchi advertising
executive explains the key to producing a good pharmaceutical ad: it's
in making the association between the drug and other aspects of life
that promote peace of mind, like playing with your kids or reading a
It's Madison Avenue type stuff, designed to play on
your emotions and specifically, to boost sales. These messages appear
to be working because many people keep calling on doctors for more
drugs, which is the drug company's number one goal. But, interestingly,
the same mechanism also seems to be messing up the new drug approval
process for drug companies.
Wired tells us, "The fact
that an increasing number of medications are unable to beat sugar pills
has thrown the industry into crisis" and that "half of all drugs that
fail in late-stage trials drop out because of their inability to beat
sugar pills." Eli Lilly's next-generation antidepressants haven't been
doing better than a placebo in seven out of ten trials. It wasn't long
ago that Merck withdrew its "highly anticipated medical breakthrough"
antidepressant for the same reason; it didn't beat sugar pills.
interesting because placebo pills are often sugar pills, and sugar is
known to depress the immune system for hours after it's taken. So, in
truth, drug companies are having a difficult time competing against an immune system depressant.
Potter, psychiatrist turned Eli Lilly drug developer, found himself
baffled by the evidence that drugs he'd long been prescribing were now
failing against placebos. So, he started digging around in Eli Lilly's
trial database, a database that included trials the company didn't make
public and preferred to keep quiet.
Inside that database, Potter
found there were tremendous differences in the results of drug trials,
based on things like the size and color of the pills, and even where in
the world the trial was located.
For example, blue tranquilizer
pills have better effects than red pills, even with the same stuff
inside. This is the case in all but Italian men, which with whom the
color blue is associated with their national football team. And Valium
often beats the placebo in France and Belgium, but regularly fails in
Other research has found that patients do better with a
caring doctor who takes time with them, compared to a non-caring doctor
who doesn't bother with communication, even if they are both given the
These random factors can sway drug trials one way
or the other, yet drug companies aren't required to submit for
regulatory review all of the tests they run on a particular drug. They
can submit just the ones they do well in and keep the ones that they
fail to themselves, even if the factors for "doing well" are as
esoteric (and non-scientific) as the color of the pill given, the
branding of the pill, the price of the pill, or which country the trial
Fabrizio Benedetti studied the placebo effect on his
own, because funding couldn't be found to study something the drug
industry considers to be getting in the way of profits.
on previous research, Benedetti found that when someone is given a
pill, the brain expects change to happen. Based on that expectation,
the brain often then starts producing its own pain-relieving medicine,
which can reduce pain and even regulate heart and respiratory
Instead of working to understand how the body can
heal itself, drug companies see this, the placebo effect, as a
nuisance. In fact, these days, daily doses of immune-depressing sugar
pills might cause bigger problems for drug companies than their direct
It'd be curious to see what would happen if the
sugar pills were replaced with a whole foods diet, or supplementation
with placebo herbs like cat's claw, garlic, or other known immune
system enhancers. Perhaps, this should become the standard for the
testing of pharmaceutical drugs, as testing against substances that are
known to depress the immune system isn't really a level playing field,
even if the drug companies are routinely failing.
Of course, if
this were to happen, far fewer drugs would pass the already flimsy
approval requirements that allow for the cherry picking of data and
hiding of negative results. And this isn't something the drug industry