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  • Writer's pictureGary Moller

About the placebo effect with nutritional supplementation

Updated: Apr 5

"She says she feels better so I will press on but wary of a placebo effect…"



Similar to the aboriginal witch doctor pointing the bone to instil the curse of death, which then ensues, a medication or supplement does not have to have any fundamental therapeutic properties. Yet, it may still influence the course of an illness or enhance a person's perception of well-being. What may be as influential as the actual properties of the product, or more so, is the theatricals involved in prescribing? These theatricals may include a grey-haired expert in a white coat sitting behind an imposing desk with the wall behind covered with impressive degrees and diplomas. This person with obvious eminent authority says, "Take this daily, and you will soon feel better". It could be a sugar pill in fancy packaging, but the odds are still high that it will produce more than a random benefit.

(In this discussion, I'll stick to nutritional therapy and avoid allopathic medicine.)

While I see signs of the placebo effect all the time, and I'm wary of it, I'm still prepared to harness the power of the mind and the power of subtle persuasion. Prescribing a placebo is a legitimate therapy. However, while harnessing the power of the placebo and suggestion, the effective clinician always goes above and beyond these by using therapies that are proven effective on their own. Of course, clinicians who use nutrition as therapy should ensure that what they give is effective.

  1. Test This means applying the most appropriate test or two, of which there are now countless to select from. I routinely use Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis, which provides enough information to take most of the guessing out of nutrition advice. Without the proper testing, there is too much guessing for comfort.

  2. Stick to evidence-based prescribing This means using the evidence from testing the person to determine their needs. This means using, where possible, nutrients and nutritional formulas clinical research supports.

  3. Stick to quality products Not all vitamins and minerals are the same, even if the formula on the label appears identical to the other. Be wary of any heavily advertised products, including ones that use celebrity endorsements to sell them and products sold by multi-level marketing. Be wary of supermarket products. These products rely on very cheap production using cheap materials to give large margins to allow expensive advertising, celebrity endorsements, and heavy discounting.

  4. Give the therapy time Okay, now you have the testing to guide and the quality products. The second to last thing to do is to give it time. I recommend going steady for 8-12 weeks before making any drastic changes.

  5. Review progress At 12 weeks or sooner, then adjust the intervention. At six months, repeat the testing and go from there.

By following this process, the placebo effect, partly, entirely or not, is still results-driven, and, finally, that's what it is all about: positive results!

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