Sugar can cure cancer!

OK, probably not, but I was just thinking about this whole “palcebo effect” thing.

As I understand it, whenever a new drug is being tested in a double-blind study, one group of subjects is given the real drug and the other group is given a “placebo,” which is basically a sugar pill. At the end of the study, some members of the placebo group invariably have shown some improvement, and this is usually written off as being the result of random chance (some people would have gotten better on their own) or the so-called “placebo effect” (a person’s belief in the healing power of a drug can improve his body’s ability to fight the illness).

Has anybody ever considered, however, whether some supposedly inert ingredient in the placebo pill itself, perhaps sugar, actually has some sort of curative power, at least to a small degree? Maybe there is no “placebo effect” and sugar really CAN cure cancer in a small number of people.

Probably not, but maybe having a sweet tooth isn’t such a bad thing after all…



The placebo effect has been demonstrated by rigorous testing. In one study I’m familiar with, both groups were given placebos. Members of each group who believed that they were getting “real drugs” recovered more quickly from the ailment (in this case, an intentionally-induced cold) than those who believed they were getting a placebo.

Yes! :smiley: At least, they’ve considered whether the placebos’ ingredients themselves might be skewing the test results. Dunno whether anybody’s ever tried sugar as a cure for cancer…

Placebos, theoretically at least, don’t contain anything at all except inert ingredients, like those “inert ingredients” that appear on the package of multi-symptom cold pills after “pseudoephedrine 30 mg” etc.

But here is an interesting discussion of the way that placebos that don’t contain completely inert ingredients (like pills with sugar or lactose in them) can affect test results.

Those “inert ingredients” are technically known as “excipients”.

Better Living Through Chemistry.

The American Academy of Pediatrics wants better labeling for excipients on children’s medications, because some of them cause allergies and other adverse reactions.

So, yes, other people have thought about it.

Well, as long as other people are thinking about these important questions, I can sleep soundly at night…



Different kinds of placebos are used in different kinds of testing. Injectible drugs are tested with a sterile saline placebo (or at least some have been), and the placebo effect still prevails.

Even more tellingly, Cecil has spoken about doctors performing an sham exorcison on a patient who believed he had demon infestation and he rapidly got better.

On a recent PBS airing of “Scientific American Presents” concerning the placebo effect, they presented a study using “placebo accupuncture” and compared it to the effectiveness of an actual medication. So, in this case, the placebo was not a medication at all, yet there was still a definite effect present. True, there was no double blinding, since by necessity, the “accupuncturist” was fully aware that that the treatment he was administering was fake, but I still found the study interesting.