Everything that we take and from which we expect a certain medicinal effect has a placebo effect.
This can be beautifully observed, for example, by taking valerian tablets: Valerian is taken half an hour before bedtime and is supposed to support both falling asleep and sleeping through the night.
But what many do not know: The tablets must be taken every day, because the effect occurs only after about two weeks.
In the pharmacy, I hear time and again that patients only take the tablets now and then, when they have the feeling that they can’t fall asleep. And lo and behold, after taking the tablets, they find it easier to fall asleep.
But how can they work then? The placebo effect provides the answer.
Knowing we have done something about our insomnia, we calm down, we are ready for sleep — and we actually fall asleep.
Of course, we then attribute the effect to valerian; after all, we have just taken a tablet so that we can fall asleep better. But it wasn’t valerian, it was the placebo effect.
It is also possible that valerian only has a placebo effect if we have taken it regularly.
Medizin Transparent, a project of the Cochrane Austria science network that scientifically reviews health claims, states the following about valerian:
“Despite its popularity, science has not yet been able to gather good evidence for valerian’s effectiveness as a sleep aid. While there have been a number of studies on valerian — many of which had few participants, measured different symptoms, and used different doses of valerian. And so the results of previous studies were often neither robust nor comparable to each other. This makes it difficult to judge whether valerian is (in)effective.”
But basically, how do I know that the tablet I swallowed was responsible for the effect and not the placebo effect?
If I take a tablet when I have a headache, I expect the pain to subside. But headaches usually go away even if I don’t take a tablet. The only question is: when?