placebo

  1. Sinus infection? Don't touch that antibiotic!

    It's another case where you have to wonder just how the "standard care" became the standard care in the first place.

    Show up at your doctor's office with a sinus infection, and odds are good you'll walk out with a 10-day (or longer) prescription for the antibiotic amoxicillin.

    That's the standard care -- but the latest research confirms what should already be obvious to your doctor: Since most sinus infections are caused by viruses, antibiotics are outright worthless and flat-out unnecessary.

    But before I get into that, let me explain a little about how your doctor knows you have a sinus infection. He has a checklist of symptoms called the Sinonasal Outcome Test-16 -- or SNOT-16 for short.

    (Who says doctors don't have a sense of humor?)

    Reach a certain SNOT score based on your symptoms, and you've got a sinus infection.

    So starting with this test, researchers found 166 SNOT-ty patients and randomly assigned them to either 10 days of amoxicillin or a placebo.

    After those 10 days were up, 78 percent of those on the antibiotic felt better. That might sound like a highly effective treatment -- until you see the 80 percent who got better on nothing more than a sugar pill.

    There was also no difference at all in how many days of work the patients missed, how satisfied they were with their care, how much care they received, or how often they relapsed.

    So the drug did nothing for the infection -- but that doesn't mean it did nothing at all. Odds are, that drug did quite a bit.

    Each unnecessary antibiotic treatment is a chance for bacteria to learn to resist it, and the overuse of these meds for conditions like sinus infections has helped create powerful and deadlier strains of common bacteria.

    So while those drugs might be cheap, they come with a huge cost for society.

    And that's why the researchers behind the new study are calling on docs to take a new approach -- one that can only be called common sense: Instead of rushing to the prescription pad every time someone walks in with a high SNOT score, wait.

    If it goes away on its own, great.

    And if it doesn't, THEN -- and only then -- is it time to consider bringing out the big guns, like antibiotics.

  2. The battle against PTSD

    Veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder are routinely pumped full of antipsychotic drugs. And as most of them will tell you (in language I can't use here), those drugs aren't doing a darn thing for them.

    And now there's research to back them up -- and it's not all in their head.

    Researchers randomly assigned 247 combat vets who were suffering from PTSD to either the antipsychotic medication Risperdal (aka risperidone), or a placebo, for six months.

    In both groups, only 5 percent of veterans had a complete recovery. In both groups, between 10 percent and 20 percent showed some modest improvement. And in both groups, the vets reported similar scores for depression, anxiety, and quality of life.

    In other words, the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that this "powerful" drug has all the power of a sugar pill.

    But while the vets who took the drug didn't get any relief, they did get a few other things: side effects such as weight gain and fatigue, including an extreme level of fatigue known as somnolence.

    While the study only involved Risperdal, the researchers say they believe similar antipsychotic drugs -- including Seroquel, Geodon, and Abilify -- will prove to be every bit as useless.

    Fortunately, our soldiers don't have to wait for Big Pharma to answer the call when it comes to PTSD. The U.S. military itself has been quietly investigating some of the best alternative treatments, including hyperbaric oxygen therapy, fish oil, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and acupuncture.

    And the early word from many veterans who've tried these treatments has been encouraging (and printable).

    Some of the most promising research involves acupuncture, with medics in the field even using the needles to treat the traumatic brain injuries.

    Back on the homefront, research on the technique for PTSD itself is under way right now.

    In one small recent study, veterans suffering from PTSD who were given either acupuncture or group cognitive-behavioral therapy for 12 weeks had significant improvements when compared to a control group. The benefits lasted for full three months after treatment.

    Obviously, we need more studies to ensure these treatments really do work -- but since we now know for sure that drugs don't, let's stop wasting time and give veterans the real thanks they deserve.

    Let's get them healed.

  3. The wrong approach for IBS

    It was downright frustrating to read a study in the New England Journal of Medicine pushing the antibiotic rifaximin for irritable bowel syndrome, despite lackluster results and far more effective drug-free alternatives.
  4. Real powers of fake drugs

    You've heard of the placebo effect--but now, a new study finds that even patients who know they're taking one of these phony meds can get some very real results.

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