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Dangerous Placebos Used in Medical Trials

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked


Story at-a-glance -

  • Randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled studies are considered to be the “gold standard” in terms of epidemiologic studies
  • Placebos are supposed to be inert but, typically, the contents of the placebo in a study are not disclosed
  • This leaves much room for “interpretation” when it comes to choosing placebos for studies and “sometimes a placebo is not a placebo”
  • Excipients, which are substances like coloring agents, preservatives and fillers that aid in drug delivery, are examples of substances in placebos that could have an active or harmful effect
  • When the contents of a placebo are not disclosed as a part of the study design, the study lacks transparency and its results may be skewed, inaccurate or misleading

In assessing the validity of medical trials, an inactive control, or placebo, is considered essential in producing high-quality evidence. Randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled studies are, in fact, considered to be the "gold standard," as good as it gets in terms of epidemiologic studies. The assumption here is that the placebo is inert, i.e., is a substance that has no effect on your body.

The reason this is an assumption is that, typically, the contents of the placebo in a study are not disclosed — not to the subjects of the study nor in the subsequent peer-reviewed journal publication.

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