PSYC 180 March 29 – Placebos
Myths, controversies and placebo effects in diet and food culture
Seeing the label, carbonation, environment and personal experience with food has to do with it as
well, not just the chemicals in the food.
CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine) treatments = placebos.
Food and medicine are largely inseparable – they are both integral to health.
o Heart disease, cancers and strokes; diet plays a part in all of them
o But down syndrome, sickle-cell anemia do not have that much to do with diet (more to do
Only two common lifestyle habits influence long-term health more than dietary choices:
o Smoke and other tobacco use
o Excessive alcohol consumption
Many factors contribute for food choices: convenience, advertising, availability, economy,
emotional comfort, habit, etc. Nutritional value is usually least considered.
Placebo effects in food allergies and addictions.
Food aversions: bad experiences with food will make you not want to eat that food again.
Food taboos: nothing to do with personal experience; instead it has to do with what your culture
tells you – whether you should eat bacon or not, etc.
Comfort, cultural, traditional, ceremonial foods.
Dieting and weight loss
Any drug effect is the sum of the patient and the care provider in the micro-context, which is in
the macro-context. Adapting that model to food is to switch from drug to food; patient to
consumer; care provider to source: the food/meal/diet is the sum of the consumer and the source.
Care provider-patient interactions: “doctor-patient relationship”. Central to clinical practice.
Source-consumer interactions: variable concept: who/what is the source? What is the relationship
to the consumer and food? Regulated to some extent.
Practitioner attributes: words, attitudes, behaviours.
Source attributes (of food): could be mother, or big industry (e.g. McDonalds). For some people
the source is the land itself – like the gods.
o Food preferences, availability and accessibility
o Parental preferences, beliefs and attitudes
o Parents, siblings, peers and models
o Mealtime structure: meals and snacking, TV, eating out
o Resource constraints: time, education, income
o Eating as a family regularly correlates with lower waist circumference and BMI later on
Commercial influences: habits when buying food.
Knowledge and expectation (drug) of practitioners can influence patient outcome (e.g. doctor
knowing if there is a pain-relief drug in a pill or not)
o Food presentation (symbolic): labeling, packing, marketing
o Food production methods (chemical): farming, processing, storage, cooking PSYC 180 March 29 – Placebos
o Eating environment
Patient attributes: age, weight, health status, diet, genetics, and epigenetics, etc.
o Experience, knowledge, expectations, cultural heritage, etc.
Hidden treatment is less effective.
o Taste perception: genetics affects perception of bitter, sweet and umami tastes.
3 taster groups: supertasters, (medium) tasters, nontasters.
25 known bitter taste receptor genes
o Beliefs: people who believe they are lactose intolerant (but are not) present the same
symptoms as those who are actually la