Saturday, November 21, 2015

Placebo makes you faster, according to experiment

Generally speaking, our physical condition is considerably influenced by the psychological status. For example, your toothache may be alleviated by taking a painkiller, even if the capsule is empty. It is well known as a placebo effect.

Placebo effect was introduced by Beecher in his paper titled “The Powerful Placebo” in 1955 for the first time. Since then, it has been a common sense in physicians that we can enhance our performance with believing that we are enhanced with drugs. Nowadays, almost all newly medications are required to be examined with a placebo-controlled trial before being approved of their effectiveness.

And, the placebo effect is also seen in sports activities, according to researchers. In the University of Glasgow, 15 male amateur athletes were recruited to participate an experiment. They took an injection of mock erythropoietin, a substance used to increase red blood cells. After the injection, they achieved better scores, in spite that the material injected was saline.

The New York Times: A Placebo Can Make You Run Faster

In the original article, it was mentioned that the degree of improvement in the performance of athletes was not equal to the effect of real erythropoietin. If the effect were not different, erythropoietin would not need to be regulated as a subject of doping.

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: Effects of an Injected Placebo on Endurance Running Performance

Rather, I think that this result shows that the human is so vulnerable that his mental status can easily alter the physical performance. An excellent trainer can enhance the athlete’s motivation to let him achieve an amazing outcome. By contrast, a terrible boss should be harmful regarding damaging the subordinate in real.

By the way, I am concerned about the methodology of such a study. The participants seemed not to be informed that they would take a placebo. It is the core of this trial. However, disguising participants in an experiment is ethically problematic. Candidates of an experimental attempt have the right to give consent with a full understanding of the experiment in advance. I wonder how the review board members assessed this matter in the ethical committee. Since I could not read the full article at the office, unfortunately, I am not sure about the thought of the authors in detail.

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