19 Feb Placebo and Parlor Tricks
I got to hear a great lecture by Dr. Michael Klaper about a year ago at TrueNorth Health Center in Santa Rosa, CA. In part of the lecture Dr.Klaper was talking about the insanity of “gallstone cleanses”. If you haven’t heard of them, they are the very dangerous idea that you can somehow dissolve and “pass” gallstones if you drink this concoction that someone convinced someone else was a good idea. The only problem is, not only is it dangerous (it uses oil which can cause further issues with gallstones) but it was nothing more than a parlor trick. What was actually “passed” was basically soap. That’s right, soap. The mixture of things caused a reaction and it looked like what gallstones might look like, if you are not a doctor, and if you’ve never seen gallstones up close and personal.
What shocked me the most about this was not the amount of people who actually tried it, but the amount of pseudo-science sites that promoted it. This was something that could actually hurt someone, and yet people were touting it as a natural way to remove gallstones.
If you take a look around though, you will see it everywhere. We live in a world of quick fixes, lofty promises and people who want to make a lot of money off of your desire to get healthy, faster, and by any means. Just take a walk down any supplement section of a store. It’s overwhelming what you will find, and I’m not just talking about pharmacies, have you been to natural food stores lately? It’s the same, if not worse. There are powders, pills, lotions to cure just about anything you might have. The scary thing is often these things are not regulated, when they should be treated just like any other thing you might take to cure something.
The truth though is that most of what is offered is nothing more than parlor tricks or placebos. If you start to really dive into the studies that claim that ONE nutrient, food, superfood, food you’ve never heard of, or extract you will quickly find numerous flaws.
You will find studies conducted by the people trying to sell you that particular product, studies that had very small amounts of data, studies that showed a multitude of findings, but because it might have happened to include some strange fruit extract, someone decides to make money off of a line in a poorly conducted study.
In my pursuit of a degree in nutritional science I started to read old nutrition text books. What I found out was that nothing much has changed in the past century as far as what we need and what is recommended. Our evolution has not changed as such that we all of a sudden need green coffee extract and acai powder.
We live in a world of over-abundance. Not just in food but in finding miracle cures and potions.
And it’s not your fault. You care about your health and your well-being and you want what is best for you. There is so much noise it is often hard to drown out fact from fiction. The healthiest diet still is the most simple diet. That really hasn’t changed. What has changed is a marketing machine that tells us we need more and more and more. And an unhealthy obsession with reductionist thinking in science.
Early on in my T2 diabetes diagnosis I read a magazine article that cinnamon was very important for T2 diabetics. It went on to say you should use more cinnamon and you should take cinnamon pills. I believed this for MANY years. Funny thing, it doesn’t help much when you are still eating a poor diet. Sprinkling cinnamon on your greek yogurt after you’ve had your egg, cheese and ham omelet is not going to do you any favors. Not to mention, it was for this reason I was pretty sure that Cinnamon Toast Crunch was a pretty healthy alternative for dessert.
The more interesting part of that story? It took me until going to my very first Engine 2 Immersion to realize I didn’t need to take it. There I was having a lot of success, I had completely changed my diet, and I hate to admit this, but I thought it was in part due to the cinnamon. I had been taking cinnamon for years and nothing had changed. You would think that I would know better than to think it was my cinnamon consumption that was causing better blood sugar numbers, rather than the food I was now eating.
I was afraid to stop taking it. I was afraid that all of a sudden my blood sugar would go up.
Guess what? Nothing happened. My blood sugar still kept getting better, post dropping my cinnamon supplements.
Don’t get me wrong, I love cinnamon. But cinnamon is not the answer to T2 diabetes, it is the answer to tastier oatmeal though 🙂
When you start looking at the studies you will start to see that there were a whole lot of variables that people selling you cinnamon leave out. Like what other lifestyle behaviors the participants had or if they had changed their diet because they thought they were doing something healthier.
It can all be a pretty great placebo effect.
The problem is that there are many things we don’t know enough about to know if they could actually hurt you. I don’t think excess cinnamon will hurt anyone (maybe their wallets over time), but there are plenty of powders and pills that we just don’t know enough about.
Often these things become crutches. I had a lot of them when I first started. As I continued I realized that it was the food that was the medicine.
If you are worried about deficiencies, go to the doctor, get tested and find out how you are doing. If all is well, continue eating your fabulous plant-strong diet filled with all the right things, in their whole form. Don’t waste your time with reductionism science, keep it simple, keep it whole and keep it healthy.
For more on the dangers of over supplementing and other important information regarding this topic, check out Dr.McDougall’s articles on supplements, vitamins and minerals.