Recently, when looking for ideas for articles, I have been inspired mainly by you, the readers, by following the most frequently searched words and phrases on this site (form in the column on the right) and if something appears too often, examining whether your search was successful. Last week, the word placebo dominated the search engine… And when I entered it there, I was surprised – no satisfactory answer was found.
I know that many of you are now waving your hands, because you come across the term placebo every step of the way… But if only a tenth of you would benefit from this mini-article, it will serve its purpose more than 100%. So, what is a placebo?
I recently watched one part of the MASH series. Doctors ran out of morphine and the number of suffering patients with severe postoperative pain increased. But what about them right now when supplies arrive in the morning? Capsules filled with plain sugar have proven to be the solution. With the words “It is a very powerful drug” is doctors administered to all patients… Result? After a few tens of minutes the pain was gone…
And this is exactly the placebo (read: placebo). It is a harmless substance, such as the already mentioned sugar or flour, which is applied to patients in the same way as the active substance. And even though this placebo does not have a minimum content of the active substance, patients who believe the opposite can respond positively to it.
The greatest attention is currently paid to placebo in pharmacology, where many complex tests have to be performed before a drug can be marketed. The group of volunteers on whom the substance is tested in the final stages is divided into two groups. One of them is administered the active substance (experimental group), the other placebo (control group). The joke, however, is that no one knows in which group he is, ie. whether he is taking a medicine or just a substitute. At the end of the experiment, the results are compared and only at this moment do we obtain objective information.
In our field, various supplements are tested in this way, eg for gaining muscle mass. If we have two groups, control and experimental and both have exactly the same training, diet and other conditions, then after the end we can clearly say whether the studied supplement supports weight gain or not. If the control group gains 1.5 kg and the experimental group 5 kg within 8 weeks, it is clearly a substance that has a positive effect on the increase in muscle mass.
Specific case? For example, I received this study on the effects of ephedrine, carried out at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. The researchers gave obese women 20 mg of ephedrine along with 200 mg of caffeine three times a day. All participants had to follow a low-calorie, low-fat diet. Results? The group, which only kept a diet, lost 4 kg of muscle mass and 4.5 kg of fat. “Ephedrine” group with 1 kg of muscle mass and a whole 9 kg of fat.
So now you can say that these experiments are 100% informative about a given supplement. Yes, the studies themselves are sure, but sometimes their journey from scientists to ordinary people is very long and the truth can change slightly. As an example, here is a study of arginine, an amino acid that became a hit as a muscle-building substance in the early 1980s. Media advertising at the time was based on a study conducted in Europe, and at first glance it seemed that, according to her, this substance must have a really fantastic effect. But if you looked at unbiased, non-commercial literature (such as medical journals), then the truth was elsewhere. Two groups of volunteers? Yes. Significant increase in the mass of the experimental group compared to the control group? Yes. However, one manufacturer of “suplemtns” forgot “and a rather important mention: