Placebo and the Power of Believing: Quotations from Dr. David R. Hamilton

A placebo is a dummy drug — a sugar pill — that’s made to look just like a real drug. It’s used in medical trials so that the drug can be tested against a control (i.e. a placebo).  Being a placebo … it’s not supposed to do anything. But is this always true? Unfortunately it is NOT. In certain cases, a placebo can “behave” like an active drug if the patients believe it is a real drug. It is their belief that’s doing the work! Why is this possible? According to Dawson Church (in The Genie in Your Genes), Our brains are themselves generating drugs similar to those that the doctor is prescribing for us.

When you believe something, chemicals are often produced in your brain that give you what you believe should happen.

The placebo effect is often quoted at 35 percent … it works 35 percent of the time. It actually varies tremendously … from as low as 10 percent to as high as 100 percent in some cases.

  • In 2007, a drug company reported that the condition of 66 percent of patients improved after taking a new drug for congestive heart failure. But the placebo (only taking sugar pill in the trial) also improved 51 percent of patients.
  • Clofibrate was used extensively for cholesterol-lowering in the1980s and 90s. The five-year survival rate for patients on this drug was 80 percent. The placebo was 79.1 percent.

Let’s look at what some other research results tell us:

  • Paying more for a simple painkiller can produce a greater painkilling effect than a less expensive version, even though they might be the exact same drug, simply packed and priced differently. 
  • An expensively packaged placebo is as good as a cheaper, mass-market version of an actual drug. 
  • In the US, a placebo injection of pain is more effective than a placebo tablet, yet in Europe, a placebo tablet is more effective than an injection, even though they’re both placebos. 
  • The same placebo can produce opposite effects, depending on what a person believes it’s for. Believing an inhaler can relax airways relax airways. yet believing it contains allergens can constrict them, even if it’s a placebo in both cases.

These kinds of observations teach us something very important about the mind’s ability to impact the body. A thought or belief isn’t just “all in the mind”. Mind and emotional impact the physical state of the body.

The effectiveness of placebo depends upon various factors such as:

  • the illness,
  • the language used by the person prescribing or dispensing the medicine,
  • the personality of the doctors giving the medicine,
  • how a clinician dresses,
  • their age — whether they have grey hair or wear glasses,
  • the desire of the patient to get better,
  • how much they believe that they will get better.

The Power of Positive Consultation: The placebo effect is often seen as a nuisance in medical trials. Therefore some companies try to remove it …. they think they can, but they cannot. This is how they try to get rid of the placebo effect. Patients are given either a drug or a placebo. The ones who improve on placebo are called “placebo responders.” Say, 35 percent of the people are placebo responders. These are then removed from the trial.

A new trial then begins that doesn’t have any known placebo responders. By right, there should not be any more patients who respond to placebo in this second group. But the reality is, a new 35 percent of patients still respond to the placebo.

The reason for this result in these trials lies in the only factor that hasn’t changed between the two studies — the doctors! The still say the same things … what they say, how they say it, their enthusiasm … and how they relate to the people receiving it matters a lot.

There is another study done in 1954. Patients with bleeding ulcers were given water injection (placebo):

  • But were told that this would cure them. Seventy percent of them showed excellent improvement.
  • When told that this was an experimental injection of undetermined effectiveness. Only 25 percent improved.

Nocebo

Nocebo effect is the opposite of the placebo effect where patients develops negative symptoms. Research published in Psychosomatic Medicine XXX, 819-829 and XXX1,134-143 (both in 1969) illustrated the effects of nocebo.

  • Forty asthmatics were given an inhaler containing a placebo (water vapour) but were told that it contained allergens that would cause constriction of the airways.
  • Nineteen of them (48 percent) suffered considerable constriction of their airways.
  • Twelve of them experienced a full asthma attack.

They were then given another inhaler and told that it would relieve their symptoms. Yes, it did even though it also contained the same water vapour.

In another study:

  • The patient was told that the inhaler contained pollen. The patient swiftly developed hay fever as well as airway constriction.
  • The patient was told that the inhaler just contained allergens but no pollen. This time the patient only developed asthma symptoms.
  • The patient was again told the inhaler contained pollen. Once again the patient developed hay fever as well as asthma.

In all these three situations the inhaler just contained water vapour, a placebo.

From the above it is apparent that what doctors say and how they say it clearly matters … the language, mannerisms, empathy, warmth and authority, as well as enthusiasm and confidence, have a considerable effect. 

Although some of these results point to the power of a doctor’s personality, the personality of the patient also affects how they receive the message and therefore how well the placebo works for them.

The following are additional information from the internet about placebo.

  • The use of placebos in cancer clinical trials is rare.
  • Placebos do not generally have long-lasting effects and they do not cure diseases.
  • Much of the placebo effect depends on a person’s expectations. If a person expects to feel relief, they just might. If a person fears side effects, those might occur.

Comments

Having learned about the placebo, let us now take a look at what can happen in real life situation. Here is a patient who is diagnosed with cancer.

  1. He wants to go to the best oncologist in town. The doctor has to be a famous one. One that everybody talked about. The higher the fees the doctor charges the more “worthy” he is. He doesn’t want to go to a “cheap” doctor because the cheap one may not be as good as the expensive one. What is more, his life is at stake, so he does not want to take chances, i.e. if he has a fat bank account.
  2. He goes into the doctor’s office. Wow, it’s a five-star suite. Very impressive. Worth coming here! That shows he is a very successful doctor.
  3. He has to wait to see the doctor, because there are so many others lining up to this “saviour” as well. Also another sign that the doctor is really “khiang” (effective).
  4. When he gets to see the doctor, indeed he is very impressive. He is well dressed and talks with absolute confidence as if he is god.
  5. The doctor looks at the patient’s medical reports and scan. Go for chemotherapy immediately. That is the mantra with this doctor. No wasting of time.
  6. The doctor also warned the patient. If you don’t proceed with the proposed treatment the cancer will spread widely and fast too. If that happens, it will be too late for me to do anything. I cannot help you anymore.
  7. To makes things more dramatic the doctor would even tell the patient, I will treat you like my daughter. Don’t worry, I will take care of you well. In another case, the doctor even hug the patient’s wife and said, Don’t worry your husband will be alright. He will get well soon.

I don’t make up the above. These are what patients tell me happened to them. Take a look at this story:

If you understand the effect of placebo discussed earlier, what can you say about the behaviour of such a doctor? Don’t you think the whole scenario is trying to drum up a placebo effect? Perhaps at that point, even if you are given a glass of colored water to drink you will probably feel better!

When told to go for chemotherapy, I generally tell the patients to ask the oncologist if the treatment is going to cure them or not.

These are the answers you generally get.

  • Do chemo to prolong life! To avoid the nocebo effect the doctor cannot say, No, there is no cure! The patient may just run away from him.
  • If you don’t do chemo, your chance (whatever that means) is 35 percent. If you do chemo, your chance is 55 percent (or 65 or 70 percent).

From the second answer, it means that chemo will improve your chance by 20 percent ( or 30 percent or 45 percent). Is that good enough? You want a 100 percent chance right?

Earlier, we learn that research has shown the effect of placebo can vary from 10 percent to as high as 100 percent in some cases. Generally we say the placebo can contribute to about 35 percent on average.

Ask yourself, if by doing chemo my chance is increased by only 20 or 30 percent, is that not like a placebo effect? What if I just do nothing.  I cannot answer that question because research comparing chemo-drug against a placebo is rarely done.

But Professor Hardin Jones, University of California Berkeley had given his answer many years ago. He had personally studied the life expectancy of patients for more than 25 years and has come to the conclusion that chemotherapy does more harm than good.

He said, My studies have proven conclusively that untreated cancer victims actually live up to four times longer than treated individuals. People who refused chemotherapy treatment live on average 12 and a half years longer than people who are undergoing chemotherapy. People who accepted chemotherapy die within three years of diagnosis, a large number dies immediately after a few weeks … the only reason doctors prescribe chemotherapy is because they make money from it.

If you browse through the internet, there are many people who do not agree with what Dr. Jones had said. Take it from me, I too have been helping thousands of cancer patients for more than two decades and I can say this. Dr. Jones may not be exactly correct in terms of numbers (if that will make you happy!) but taking the message as a whole, he is right all the way! I have many patients who have outlived their doctors’ prognosis by just following our therapy and not undergoing any chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Are CA Care herbs a placebo?

Patients often tell me that their doctors do not encourage or forbid them from taking herbs. Herbs are just placebos! Empty! Not proven, not scientific! I don’t blame them. When I first started using herbs, I too did not believe that herbs were any good! But, with time I begun to see that herbs are really effective. If herbs are just a placebo, they cannot bring such wondrous healing.

I am fully aware about the effects of placebo from the very beginning when we started CA Care. So, I don’t intend to “cook up” this effect. Come to our centre. It is not a five-star suite! It is just a third-rate office. There is nothing to impress you! I don’t wear white coat nor put on tie with a stethoscope hanging down around my neck. My standard attire is just an open neck T-shirt — cheap one, not branded!

If you understand placebo, my initial presentation to you as a first time visitor is more of a nocebo (i.e. the opposite of placebo). Even more so, when I start to talk to you. I make it clear from the start of our conversation that I cannot cure your cancer! I also do not say that you are going to die soon if you don’t do this or that. I don’t want to play God. I also warn you that our therapy is NOT easy to follow. The herbs taste awful. You have to brew a few teas everyday — a big chore indeed. You cannot eat anything you like because proper, healthy diet is very important for their healing. All these requirements are “repulsive” to most people.

Because of me being brutally frank and out front, from my experience, I know that 70 percent of those who consulted me will not return after their first visit. This is because I cannot give them what they want — an easy cure. I am fine with that because I understand that healing needs full commitment by the patients. They need to understand that their health is their responsibility. For me to be able to help them they must first believe in what I am telling them. If you don’t believe don’t come.

My estimate is that, after all is said, I am left with about 30 percent of patients who really want to get well. To me the 70 percent who disappear does not represent any loss of income because I charge no consultation fee. The more people come to me, the more work I have to do. And I earn nothing!

Why am I so brutal during our first consultation? Why don’t I just say sweet and encouraging words that patients want to hear? This is all about honesty and integrity. I don’t want to mislead you. So I have to be honest. That is my core principle at CA Care.

Over the years, seeing firsthand of what is happening (in addition to reading a lot of books), I have come to learn that there is no such thing as a cure for cancer. And what is most shocking is that peoples in the Cancer Industry, do not even want to find a cure for cancer! Cure means no more huge profit rolling in.

However, even as I tell patients that there is no cure, it does not mean that they just need to go home and live a miserable life waiting to die. Not at all. I have patients who were told that without chemo or radiation they would die within three to six months. The truth is, even after 10 or 20 years, these same patients are still around — alive and kicking! So, the situation need not be hopeless at all. There is still hope if you are willing to do your best. Yes, that statement can give rise to the placebo effects.

So, in spite of no “so sweet talk” at the beginning, some patients did tell me. After talking with you this morning, I already feel good! I am already half cured!  Yes, that is the placebo effect. But getting well after taking herbs, is not a placebo effect. I believe it is real healing. You have to see healing happening right in front of your eyes to understand what I mean.

To illustrate my point let me share some cases where patients recovered after being unconscious or in coma waiting to die in the hospital. There is no chance for me to “cook” the placebo effect. I was not even there to talk to them!

Case 1: There was a man, lying in the hospital bed in Sarawak. His story was related by his son after he got well. Each morning, on ward round the specialist in charge skipped seeing him. This case — I don’t want to touch. The liver is not functioning anymore. The patient was left to die, and according to his son, And he also want to die — too painful. The family was ready. They made him a coat so that he would wear it when placed in the coffin. This son however, refused to give up and got to know about CA Care. He did not come to see us but managed to get our herbs anyway. Our tea, Abdominal Distention helped him. This patient recovered. When I visited Sarawak, I requested to talk to this patient. He told me, I am healthier now than I was before I had cancer. He could wake up early every morning to go marketing!

Case 2: Prapti was a young, sweet girl lying in coma in a hospital in Jakarta. She a tumour in her brain. There was nothing anybody could do to help her. One stranger walked pass and told one of the family members to go to Cancer Care. Prapti was fed our herbs and within two weeks she woke up. Gradually Prapti recovered. A year or two later, I met Prapti when I visited Jakarta. I decided to adopt her as my daughter. Prapti went to a seminary, graduated and worked as a trainee pastor. She later got married.

Case 3. She had metastatic lung cancer. She went to the “famous and expensive” doctor for treatment in Singapore. With chemo after chemo and after spending IDR 2 billion, she ended up lying unconscious in a hospital in Medan.

  1. Juliana had lung cancer and was treated by the best and famous in Singapore. After spending SGD300,000 she ended up like a zombie and had to be wheeled into our centre.

Let me end by asking you to listen to this video … what I said some 20 years ago!