once knowingly prescribed placebo pills to their patients before
modern pharmaceuticals existed to help them.
the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA, Alan stands among hundreds
of graves. Many of them belong to children and adults in their 30s
and 40s who died before medical doctors had useful tools against
common bacterial diseases like cholera and tuberculosis. But that
didn't stop doctors from ministering to their patients. In "Intro
segment," Alan asks Charles Rosenberg and Anne Harrington -both
medical historians from Harvard University - what kept doctors in
shows Alan a medical manual, The English Physician Enlarged,
published in 1656. The book lists some 369 herbal remedies for a
wide range of ailments. Perhaps the most impressive herb was one
known as "Hercules Allheal," which could -according to the manual
- heal everything from gout to toothaches. Did it really work?
the 20th century the history of medicine is the history of the
placebo effect. "We are exquisitely attuned to help from
other human beings," says Harrington
the herbs cited in The English Physician Enlarged may have
had some physiological affect on the body - such as making the pulse
race - it's unlikely that many of them actually cured any diseases.
But, says Charles Rosenberg, "People always expected if they were
sick to take a drug."
that's where the placebo effect comes in. When people expect to
feel better, they often do. Doctors, shamans and other healers around
the world and throughout history have both knowingly and unknowingly
used the placebo effect to their advantage. Today, scientists are
teasing apart the mystery of the placebo effect in the hopes of
adding its power to the arsenal of modern medicine.
more on this topic, see the web feature: