The Internet Is Making Us Sicker


The placebo effect, as we all know, is the mechanism by which we sometimes feel better even when we’re given meds that later turn out to be sugar pills. The mere expectation that we will get better somehow helps us actually get better. The most eye-popping example of the placebo effect is probably this one here.

But there’s also a dark side to this. I don’t know if it has an official name, so let’s call it the anti-placebo effect.1 Basically, it means that your mind can invent miserable side effects from taking medication merely because you know that certain side effects are possible. Take cholesterol-lowering statins, for example:

At the Mayo Clinic here, Dr. Stephen L. Kopecky, who directs a program for statin-intolerant patients, says he is well aware that middle-age and older adults who typically need statins may blame the drugs for aches, pains and memory losses that have other causes. He also knows his patients peruse the Internet, which is replete with horror stories about the dangers of statins.

Yet he, like other doctors, also thinks some statin intolerance is real despite what clinical trials have shown. The problem: In the vast majority of cases, there is no objective test to tell real from imagined statin intolerance.

So there you have it: the internet is making us sicker. Does it make up for this by also making us healthier? I have my doubts. It is a spawn of evil.

And no, you still can’t take mine away. However, this is one of the reasons why I’ve avoided reading about multiple myeloma on the internet. I figure it’s unlikely to help, and might very well hurt.

1Turns out it’s called the nocebo effect. How about that?