January 2010

The Emperor's New Antidepressant

The placebo effect is based on the expectation of treatment, and its effects are insidious.  Depression has long been known to be a disease which is strongly susceptible to the placebo effect.  But the extent of the placebo effect with depression is only starting to come to light.  A long and fascinating article in Newsweek lays out the case that if antidepressant medication works, it's only because of the placebo effect.

Antidepressant medication is big business in America, to the tune of $9.6 billion in sales in 2008.  However, research into antidepressants is leading experts to believe we may be buying $9.6 billion of sugar pills - with serious side effects and withdrawal.  

In Defense of Homeopathy

The United Kingdom has been either more plagued by homeopathic "remedies" or has a more scientifically aware and skeptical and vocal populace, because whenever I hear about a protest against homeopathy, it's happening somewhere in England.  In the latest news, a protest is being planned against homeopathic remedies being marketed in the nation's largest pharmacy chain.   Protesters will each down a bottle of homeopathic remedies to prove exactly how little effect they have.

A Study Suggests that Alcoholics Have Problems with EQ

A few months ago, the LA Times ran an article relating to a study about alcoholics. Specifically, the study focused on an alcoholic’s sense of emotions including how they reacted to faces and how easy it is for alcoholics to feel out other people’s emotions from facial expressions.

The results were unusual- alcoholics, even when they are not drinking, have a much harder time reading people’s emotions than everybody else. This isn’t due to any inherent flaw in an alcoholic, but a difference in the brain’s reaction in the area of hippocampus and the amygdala. Usually, these areas light up after seeing someone’s face, but this doesn’t necessarily happen in the typical alcoholic.

Are Vitamins Worth It?

CNN has a co-article with Real Simple magazine which breaks down the different kinds of vitamins.  Each kind of vitamin gets three bullet points: "What they are," "Benefits," and "Keep in mind."  This is puff piece reporting at its finest, since nowhere in the article does it question the wisdom of taking a vitamin at all, much less pit different kinds of vitamins against each other in a meaningful way.

A disinterested reader might come away from the article with an impression that all vitamins are pretty much the same.  Some contain a little bit more of one vitamin than another, or come in an easier delivery system.  (For example, I know a lot of people who don't like to swallow pills, and prefer chewable adult multivitamins.)