The placebo effect works even when you know you’ve been given a dummy pill?!

In my critical thinking lesson today something we studied was the placebo effect, which I found very interesting and so read up some more on it and here is what I found…

First of all I’m just going to break down what the placebo effect is to those who are unaware… The placebo effect is basically what happens when a person takes a medication that he or she thinks will help, but it actually has no proven therapeutic effect for his or her particular condition. For example if you weren’t feeling very well and went to the doctors the doctor may prescribe you with some medicine. So you take this medicine and take it in good faith that it will make you feel better and you do end up feeling better. But then you find out that the medicine you were taking which ‘made you feel better’ had no biological effect to help your recovery and in fact did not help you at all, suggesting your recovery was heavily dependent on the psychological side of your recovery, as you were unaware of the fact.

So what’s this new research found out? Well, that the placebo effect works even when people know they are taking a dummy drug… Crazy right?  Traditionally it was thought that sugar pill were only effective when their clinical inefficacy  was hidden from the patient.

Researchers at Harvard University in the US and the University of Basel in Switzerland conducted an experiment on 160 volunteers who were asked to put their arm on a heating plate until they could no longer withstand the pain. All were then given placebos, but one third of the group were told they they had received the topical painkiller lidocaine to help with the burn. A second group was warned the cream was only a placebo but also given a 15 minute talk explaining how dummy drugs can help. A control group was told they would have a placebo, but without any additional commentary. The results showed that those who knew about the placebo experienced similar pain relief as those who thought they had been administered with lidocaine. In contrast the control group were left in uncomfortable pain.

What does this mean? As well as being a fascinating piece of science that could definitely be of use in peoples recovery in the future when we learn how to use it most effectively as this is relatively new information, but for now it is being perceived as a breakthrough that could lead to cheap medicines which work by the power of suggestion alone.



Looking around my school, I see distinct friendship groups in my year… I also see a few  people on their own,  who just simply enjoy immersing themselves in their own company… Are they lonely?

Have you ever been lonely before?

I’m sure you have at some point in your life before, whether it be while you’re waiting for your train on your own or you have gone away on your own and miss home, but maybe not to the point where you feel as though you are loosing yourself.

That you are drowning in silence.

That you are not important.


Recently, a study conducted over a five year period at the University of Chicago found that the presence of loneliness early in the five year span was an excellent predictor for depression later in the five year span. It showed that  loneliness was an even better predictor than the presence of depression itself early in the five year span.  Loneliness may precede depression even more frequently then we think.


On June 26th, 2015 NPR ran a story about how research suggests lonely people may actually have superior social skills than those who are not lonely. In other words, lonely people are not lonely because they don’t know how to talk to people. Instead, findings suggest they struggle with relationships because they are scared of messing up – they worry about saying the wrong thing in social situations. I see this as suggesting that loneliness and social anxiety may be intertwined, creating a vicious cycle of isolation and fear of isolation.

These are just two examples of what loneliness can lead to, however there are many more such as- an addiction to drugs, alcoholism, hoarding (obsessive- compulsive disorder), Alzheimers disease, suicide and personality disorders.

More awareness needs to be raised for issues such as loneliness and other mental health issues in particular in young adults, where this seems to be most common. People underestimate the effect it can have on a persons life. There is a difference between being alone and feeling alone. Through doing something as simple as asking if someone is okay, making an effort with them or having a chat with them regularly, who knows the difference you could make to their life because sometimes that is all that is needed.


I was at my St Johns Ambulance Cadets meeting and we have been studying diseases and one which particularly fascinated me was not just malaria, but ‘super malaria’….

But what’s the difference between malaria and ‘super malaria’?

Well basically it is a dangerous form of the malaria parasite which cannot be killed with the main anit-malaria drugs. It emerged in Cambodia but has spread to other areas of South East Asia such as Thailand.

The team at the Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit in Bangkok said there was a real danger of malaria becoming untreatable.

Prof Arjen Dondorp, the head of the malaria unit, told the BBC News website: “We think it is a serious threat.

It frightens me to think that this ‘superbug’ will spread further and most likely to Africa and even more so to think of the thousands of deaths this may have the potential to cause if not treated properly.

It also got me thinking, as I am going to Thailand in October, how I can help prevent this as it seems anti-malaria drugs may not be all that is needed to prevent it…

Here are some other steps yo u should take if you plan on travelling anywhere in South East Asia in the future…

  1. Awareness of risk- visit your GP or local travel clinic before you travel to make sure that you are at a higher risk of getting malaria and specific advice
  2. Bite prevention- use insect repellent, cover your arms and legs and use a mosquito net
  3. Check whether you need to take malaria prevention tablets
  4. Diagnosis- seek immediate medical advice if you have malaria symptoms up to a year after you return from travelling

It’s a race against the clock and we need to eliminate it before malaria becomes untreatable again and we see a lot of deaths. Around 700,000 people a year die from drug-resistant infections, including malaria and if nothing is done, this could increase to millions of people every year by 2050.

You can help reduce this number by doing something as simply as this donating to a charity organisation such as ‘Malaria No More UK’. Many people in these countries are unable to afford to buy mosquito nets and sufficient treatment and by donating to organisation which help provide these things, it can make a huge impact.

You can help make a difference while we find a cure for ‘super malaria’.




Do I have to?

So lately I’ve not been feeling too great and have been down with an ear infection! Annoying right? Well I went to the doctors and I was prescribed with a course of antibiotics for around 5 days, however now (day 3) I am feeling completely better… So why do I have to keep taking this medication? Why can’t I stop taking the antibiotics when I feel better rather than finishing the course?

Many of us know that finishing the course early does not kill all the bacteria and so those resistant bacteria are given the chance to reproduce rapidly and so it will mean that antibiotics will have no effect in the future. However the idea that stopping treatment early encourages antibiotic resistance is not supported by evidence, while taking antibiotics for longer than necessary increases the risk of resistance….

So yes, for common bacterial infections, no evidence exists that stopping antibiotic treatment early increases a patients risk of resistant infection. If patients are being put at unnecessary risk from antibiotic resistance when treatment is given for longer than necessary, then why do we continue to let this happen?

There is not enough evidence to fully back either case…  So what do you think? Should we complete the full course of antibiotics or is it pointless if your feeling better already?

ACID ATTACKS!!!- how to help

The number of acid attacks in London has been growing and growing recently and there were 454 attacks recorded from 2016, greatly contrasting to the 162 attacks in 2012. In the past, the majority of the attacks were related to robberies whereas now it appears that acid is now being used as a substitute for carrying knives, and many of them now linked to gang related crimes.

Carrying corrosive substances now is legal with no restrictions on the volume or strength of them, although. change in legalisation is being considered and in my opinion this should be fast traced to ensure that carrying corrosive substances becomes a criminal offence.

Bystanders who come to the aid of the victim of an acid attack can have an important role in minimising further injury. This is what you should try to do…

  1. Remove the victim from exposure as soon as possible
  2. Wash the victim with as much water as possible (a hose is suggested) on the person as it is vital to remove the chemicals and this should be done as soon as possible to minimise the long term effects of scaring and need for surgical reconstruction.

It’s vital that we do as much as possible to educate people on updated first aid skills, in particular people who live in London or visit frequently where it is more common, as basic knowledge of what to do when something such as an acid attack happens can help a lot. It’s imperative that more vigorous laws are introduced in places where these corrosive acids are sold and on who can buy them in order to minimise the risk of these attacks in the first place. I sincerely hope that we are never put in the situation of being a bystander to a victim of an acid attack but if we are, do hope that you would now be able to help.



It’s my choice! Right?…

After reading about Charlie Gard’s case in the news recently it led me to question who holds the right to children best interests. For those of you who are unaware of what happened to Charlie Gard, let me break it down for you… Charlie died at 11 months after a long legal battle between doctors and parents over his right to live after being diagnosed with a rare medical illness.

On the one hand is Charlie’s parents side of the argument- obviously Charlie is their child so surely they should be able to made decisions on behalf of him? For example as a child your parents would make all decisions for you like taking you to the doctors if u were unwell or even just something much simpler like what you would eat. So surely they should be able to help decide what is best for you in this aspect of your life as well? I mean after all who knows you better than your parents do. Their argument was to try anything in order to keep their child alive, including possibly going abroad for treatment as they would rather try than let their child die without a fight.

However on the other hand, Charlie was the patient of a consultant who of course would have Charlie’s best interests at heart. Clearly he knows Charlie’s situation best and the best options as he is qualified in the area. The doctors opinion was that any treatment would be hopeless and to let Charlie die in peace. But should his scientific knowledge be placed above maternal and paternal love for Charlie?

It’s a tough decision to make, and on the one hand I understand where the medical professionals in Charlie’s life are coming from however sometimes you have to go through the worst to get to the best and who knows what another chance for Charlie could have done. I do see the doctor’s point of view that to prolong a child’s suffering is not in the best interests of the patient, especially when tests show that a patient non responsive. So who’s side are you on?


Mental health taken seriously enough?

Earlier today I met my friend for a coffee and we had one of those rainy day deep convos- the type where everyones feeling a bit glum and she just let those tears that had been stocked up since the last episode explode out. During which this process she told me she thought she had depression. She explained that she googled the symptons and had done several tests online and overall had self diagnosed herself which severe depression. However after comforting her when I proceeded to ask her what her next step would be she was unsure. It’s all simple when you have a physical injury as you immediately think to go and see someone but a lot of people who are mentally unstable need encouragement from family or friends to go and see someone and a lot more support is needed to be put in place. That conversation let me to think, is mental health being taken seriously enough these days? 

With approximately one in four people experiencing a mental health problem each year in the UK and in England one in six people reporting a common mental health problem each week (like anxiety or depression) according to studies surveying residences in England, there is no doubt at all the mental health is a common and serious issue within society today. Whether this increase has been due to money, benefits and jobs making it harder for people to cope or not is debatable, however the number of suicidal thoughts has been increasing vastly lately and this is an issue that needs to be addressed urgently.

There has been a recent effort within the governments actions to try to resolve this issue which has not been addressed fully and has introduced a plan to recruit 2000 additional nurses, consultants and therapist posts created in child and adolescent mental health services, with 2900 additional therapists and 4800 additional posts for nurses and therapists working in crisis care settings.

I believe that although more could be done this is definitely a significant step forward into aiding people with mental health issues as although they may not be tangible and visible, they can have just as much of an affect on a persons life as a physical issue can. Increasing our mental health can lead to a much stronger connection between the mind and body and is a vital aspect to a full recovery from a vast variety of conditions.

After all, survival begins in a persons mind. 


As many of you may have watched the recent hit series ’13 Reasons Why’ there is no doubt that not only is it being discussed within every high school, but it has also been the hot topic of discussion amongst German doctors.


The hit series is about the main character- Hannah Baker- who leaves 13 tapes behind with 13 reasons as to why she ended her life. So why has this TV series amongst all others which contain suicide stirring up conflict amongst not only the media but qualified doctors as well?


Although many praise the series in raising awareness to several issues in the duration of the show such as- substance abuse, rape, bullying and ultimately suicide, it has received many criticism. Two psychiatric societies and a paediatrics association in Germany have condemned the series saying that it may trigger so called copycat suicides among troubled young viewers. In addition to this, Germany’s Professional Association of Paediatricians has called for the ‘immediate cancellation’ of the series and it is even said that ‘suicidal crises and even suicides’ thought to be linked to the series have already been reported to the psychiatric societies.


International guidelines’ on reporting and depicting suicide were not adhered to as due to the graphic enactment of the suicide it implied that her decision was a ‘logical consequence’ of her suffering and her classmates turning her locker into a shrine romanticised the suicide.


Is this TV series really raising awareness for these subjects which are not easily or often touched or is it blindly causing more problems?


References: BMJ 15th July 2017


The right to die?

I have recently read about Noel Conway, aged 67, and the legal fight he has began for the right to die. Noel has motor neurone disease is a condition which over time damages parts of the nervous system, leading to muscle weakness and often visible wasting. Neurodegeneration can affect the persons ability to: grip, walk, swallow, breath and speak. Motor neurone disease is an incurable disease and  a severely life-shortening condition for most people. Most people only live between three and ten years longer once they develop the condition.

Noel has quoted: “I have a right to determine how and when I die and I want to do so when I have a degree of dignity remaining to me,” and he said: “I want to live and die in my own country. The current law here condemns people like me to unimaginable suffering – I’m heading on a slow, slippery slope to hell.”

Euthanasia is still illegal in the U.K, and there are many arguments which support this such as: the religious argument that only God has the right to end life; the argument that legalising euthanasia could lead to significant unintended changes in our healthcare system which we may regret in the fututre; the medical ethics argument in which is it fair for us to ask healthcare professionals to carry out euthanasia or assist in a suicide which would go against fundamental medical ethics; there are other treatments available such as palliative care and hospices and that it may expose vulnerable people to pressure to end their lives.

On the contrary there are many arguments which do support euthanasia such as: the ethical argument that people should have freedom of choice, including the right to control their own body and life and that the state should not create laws that prevent people being able to choose when and how they die, which is the argument Noel Conway is using; and the pragmatic argument where passive euthanasia such as refusing treatment which may ultimately help save someone’s life is legal, and so euthanasia should be.

There are still many contrasting views on this topic, but I will leave you with this questions… Should our current law that euthanasia is illegal be changed? Should Noel Conway be subjected to more suffering? Or should he be allowed help to end it all?

-Zaina Alam





I have heard a lot of stories about meat from fast food chains or supermarkets, but never have I heard a story as shocking as this. According to the World Health Organisation, processed meat such as bacon, sausages and ham do cause cancer. Its report said 50g of processed meat a day – less than two slices of bacon – increased the chance of developing colorectal cancer by 18%. Is the benefit these meats give to your health worth it, if it gives you a higher chance of developing a cancer? I think that next time I would think twice about having that 5th slice of bacon!