This week I discuss the placebo effect and the use of placebos in clinical trials with Dr Felicity Braithwaite, physiotherapist and scientific researcher at the University of South Australia.
Clinical trials are used to assess whether an active ingredient or treatment is having a real health outcome. (In very lay terms) one method of achieving this is to take two groups of similar people, administer one group the active ingredient or treatment in question and the other group a sham, or placebo, ingredient or treatment. In ideal circumstances, the people in the trial do not know whether they are receiving the “real” treatment or the placebo; this is called blinding. Blinding is relatively easy to achieve in a drug trial – e.g. one group receives a pill with the active ingredient being tested and the other receives an identical looking inert pill, and the results are compared. The reason for blinding is to eliminate the placebo effect, that is, the positive effect on a person’s health after taking a placebo; believing that a treatment will benefit them often triggers a positive health outcome. The placebo effect is not fully understood and is a fascinating area of research.
It is all very well to test something in pill form but what about testing treatments, like dry needling? How can you design a study so participants do not know whether they are receiving a real needle or a fake needle? Surely you can feel it, right? This is what Felicity has grappled with and guess who she turned to? The ultimate masters of deception, magicians!
I hope you enjoy this lively chat with Felicity, a ground breaking young researcher.
LINKS MENTIONED IN THE EPISODE
Felicity’s UniSA home page: https://people.unisa.edu.au/Felicity.Braithwaite
Felcity’s twitter handle: @FBraithwaitePT
Episode on pain with Brendan Mouatt: https://amandaswellbeingpodcast.com/brendan-mouatt/
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