Posted by on Monday 6 February 2012

The placebo effect and insulin pumps

This may be complete nonsense, but...

In the unlikely event that you have read these ramblings before, you might remember that I noticed a slightly strange quirk about a week after starting on an insulin pump. The levels which worked perfectly for the first few days went completely out of the window and I had to start again. I would probably have ignored this had it not been that two other people who had started insulin pumps at roughly the same time with whom I was comparing notes had very similar experiences.

Nothing very earth shattering about it, but just a sense of, "Tch! Fancy that!". I was reminded of the experience though when we finally managed to catch up with an episode of the 'i' series of QI (almost certainly a repeat) which we had squirreled away on the TV recorder. One of the guests was debunker of Bad Science Ben Goldacre. He and national treasure Stephen Fry touched on the subject of placebos. The question being, "How do they work?". The answer, unsurprisingly, was that nobody knows (you'll have to do the booming voiceover in your own head).

What was quite interesting though (see what I did there), was that placebos do work. And they work even when people know they are placebos! Not only that, but in clinical trials (if you can clinically trial something with no therapeutic effect) it has been proven that two sugar pills are more effective than one sugar pill. And that an injection of saline is more effective than sugar pills. It seems that a sort of sliding scale of increasing medicallyness (technical term) operates.

The mind is truly an amazing thing... It's ability to effect physiological outcomes in the body astounds me.

And it makes me think about this in relation to diabetic control. How much one's state of mind might support (or scupper) a person's best efforts. I note for example that my levels were unusually good in the week I had using a pump with saline. Presumably connection to the pump was enough in itself to get my body to exercise a little self-control. Then during the first week I was able to achieve very good levels with a fraction of the insulin I seemed to need around 10 days after. I'm not sure why it didn't last. Perhaps I'd just got used to the tech and it became more normal and lost its medicallyness.

Now all I need to work out is how to convince my mind to provide long-term perfect BG levels using the placebo of bars of chocolate.


  1. I've always thought that the pump honeymoon period was caused by still having Lantus (*other well known long-acting insulins are available) swimming around for a few days after starting. There might not be much still active - but it might be enough to keep your levels perfect. Who knows?

  2. Yes I know what you mean. I'm sure there is a bit of that - though 10 days seems a bit of a stretch!

  3. Must be homeopathic. Your body is remembering the lantus. I met someone in a D meeting last week who'd been taking aspirin or placebo (she didn't know which) for over two years as part of a research project!

    Now where do I get that placebo chocolate?

  4. I think we should just try all the chocolate we can. Eventually we must stumble across the placebo one surely?

  5. Just stay away from the Boots Diabetic stuff off of the '80s.
    Eeeeuuuuwwwrrrgggghhhh - still having flashbacks 30 years later!

  6. Parp!