Posts tagged with "Placebo effect"

Sorry, your essential oils are essentially snake oils

October 3, 2019

The squeaky wheel—or painful joint—gets the oil: In fact, many people think that the “essential oils” sold by a range of businesses, from apothecaries to drug stores to Walmart, are magical healing potions that also relieve pain.

But according to an October 2 report by The Huffington Post, these great-smelling elixirs do not live up to their health claims—and are actually no more effective than snake oil.

What exactly are they? According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, they are highly volatile substance isolated by a physical process from an odoriferous plant of a single botanical species. The oil bears the name of the plant from which it is derived; for example, rose oil or peppermint oil.

Such oils originally were called “essential” because they were thought to represent the very essence of odor and flavor. And when we say originally, we are referring to the fact that essential oils can be traced back to ancient times, when people used them to make medicinal ointments, perfumes and, possibly, embalming fluids.

While we may no longer use them to mummify loved ones, essential oils have made a major comeback in recent years as a popular and powerful natural-healing solution for various ailments and conditions, the HuffPost says.

Many people say the plant-based oils—like lavender, mint and eucalyptus—relieve their migraines more swiftly than over-the-counter drugs. Some people say oils boosted their libido when nothing else seemed to do the trick.

The oils can be applied to the skin, topically, or inhaled. And each plant is tied to a specific health benefit: Peppermint is believed to increase your energy, lavender may help you calm you down, jasmine is understood to lift your mood. Some scents are even touted as able to fight cancer symptomsheart diseaseinfections and diabetes.

Of course, it’s hard to invalidate any one person’s personal experience if they say something personally helped them. However, the HufffPost reports, despite the widespread claims made for essential oils, there is little science actually backing up the testimonials and not much is known about how safe and effective these products are.

Sure, the oils may smell delicious―and the occasional whiff won’t do you any harm and may even help certain issues in the moment―but many experts say they don’t live up to all the health claims.

“So many people are ill, and are looking for something to help them feel better, it’s hard for them to walk away from a simple and natural therapy such as essential oils,” Felice Gersh, an ob/gyn and founder of the Integrative Medicine Group of Irvine, California, told HuffPost.

Essential oils are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration—and the research we do have on the oils is often based on very small or poorly designed studies, Gary Soffer, the acting director of the integrative medicine program at the Yale Cancer Center in New Haven, Connecticut, told the news outlet.

“The widespread use of essential oils without a substantial body of evidence to support it is certainly concerning,” Soffer said. “While they are generally safe, it can be shortsighted to simply see them as completely risk free.”

Still, those who swear by the oils include health professionals. Some experts suspect this is because of a very convincing placebo effect.

“Across many conditions—including anxiety, depression, and pain—when people believe something is helpful, they sometimes experience benefit,” Keith Humphreys, a psychiatrist at Stanford Health Care in Stanford, California, told the HuffPost during an interview. “Any claims of healing power beyond the placebo effect should be regarded with extreme skepticism.”

Research contact: @HuffPost

Should we go with the flow? The pros and cons of vitamin IV drips

January 29, 2019

Many Americans are “hitting the sack” these days—and it’s not for more sleep. They are visiting clinics and getting hooked up to intravenous sacks for vitamin drip therapy.

But questions remain: Is it safe? Is it effective in preventing or curing any health problems? Or is it simply an expensive way—usually not covered by health insurance—to elevate social status; with minimal side effects, either good or bad.

IV vitamin therapy (also known as vitamin IV drip and IV vitamin drip therapy), involves hooking up to an IV bag to receive a vitamins and minerals. Clinics offering these treatments are popping up across the country, for people who hope to boost immunity or alochol fight off illness; enjoy more radiant skin or hair; beat a hangover; or restore energy, Prevention magazine reports.

However, there is little evidence to show that any of these claims is true..

The magazine recently interviewed two doctors to learn more about who might benefit from IV vitamin therapy—and how—plus whether there are any drawbacks or risks to having it.

 “I do not know of any convincing evidence that, for example, an IV drip of zinc, B12, C, and magnesium will cure colds and flu,” Sidney C. Ontai, MD, a family medicine doctor and program director at Texas A&M University’s DeTar Family Medicine Residency, told Prevention.

On the other hand, Albert Ahn, MD, an Internal Medicine specialist and clinical instructor of Medicine at NYU Langone Health, said he believed that IV vitamin drips might provide two clear-cut benefits. For one, IV vitamin therapy ensures that vitamins and minerals are absorbed faster than they would be via oral consumption or supplementation.

Some people may prefer that quick fix,” Dr. Ahn told the medical news outlet. “Will it boost your stores quicker? Yes it will. But to sustain those stores, you’ll still need to continue to take it in. You’re better off probably taking an oral supplement on a daily basis.”

Additionally, IV therapy may offer some benefit by boosting hydration levels. “It does improve your hydration, and that will, for most people, make you feel better—whether you have a cold or [are] fighting an infection, or you’re a little hungover, or feeling a little under the weather,” Dr. Ahn told prevention.

But he notes that you can reap the same benefits by simply drinking more fluids. And if a healthy, properly hydrated person shows up for IV vitamin therapy, odds are good they’ll just excrete any fluids that their body doesn’t need.

“If you don’t absolutely need these drips, [you] might just be passing it out throughout the day,” Dr. Ahn says. It’s possible that someone might feel better for a short while after IV vitamin therapy, but for the most part, Dr. Ahn says any benefits to the average healthy person can likely be chalked up to the placebo effect.

However, IV vitamin therapy may provide significant benefits to people who are struggling with health conditions that make it challenging for their bodies to retain or process nutrients. Delivering nutrients via IV ensures that vitamins and minerals enter directly into the bloodstream (thereby bypassing the gut), which can speed up the replacement of nutrients.

Because of this, doctors routinely prescribe IV vitamin therapy for a number of medical conditions, says Dr. Ontai. For example, he might prescribe IV thiamine for someone going through alcohol withdrawal, IV B12 for renal dialysis patients, or IV multivitamins for people with health conditions that make it challenging for their bodies to tolerate or absorb food in the stomach or intestines.

 “With certain conditions, the absorption [via IV] may be quicker,” Dr. Ahn explains. For example, people with chronic or severe anemia may find that upping their iron intake via oral supplementation leads to an upset stomach or other side effects. In contrast, taking iron via IV may replete stores faster and without provoking stomach issues.

But for the most part, Dr. Ontai and Dr. Ahn agree that a relatively healthy person doesn’t require IV vitamin therapy.

“For your average, healthy, young patient, it’s probably not a necessity,” Dr. Ahn says. “If they have good gut health and healthy habits and a decent diet, [they] should be able to get most of these [nutrients] through food and a normal diet.”

While the IV vitamin therapy isn’t necessary for healthy people, the good news is that people seeking these treatments are, for the most part, unlikely to do themselves any harm.

“If it makes them feel better, there’s not a whole lot of downside,” Dr. Ahn says. That said, intravenous treatment always carries some potential drawbacks. “Anytime you introduce something intravenously, there are risks,” Dr. Ahn says. For example, people might experience bleeding or bruising at the injection site, and infection is a possibility.

Research contact: @prevention