• Gary Moller

About the placebo effect with nutritional supplementation

"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 instill the curse of death, which then ensues, a medication or supplement does not actually have to have any real 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 is going to produce more than a random benefit.


(In this discussion, I'll stick to nutritional therapy and steer clear of 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 evidence backs as being effective on their own. Here is how I think a clinician in nutrition should go about ensuring what they give is really effective.


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

  2. Stick to evidence-based prescribing This means using the evidence gained from testing of the person to determine their actual 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 in the label appears identical with 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, placebo effect, partly, fully or not, it is results driven, and, finally, that's what it is all about: positive results!


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