Offit references several studies that show how mood, conditioned response and perception enable people to release chemicals that inhibit pain and boost immunity. Practitioners of alternative therapies ought to investigate why and how these natural healing properties work, and mainstream medical providers should take the subject seriously, he writes.
"Now, because we have medicines that are much better than placebos, we often ignore the placebo response. To their credit, alternative practitioners haven't. It would be of value, however, if they could learn to do it without the pills, needles, electrical devices and appeals to magical thinking."
Why? Because practices that don't hew to science's evidence-based standards threaten to derail medical progress and cause patients serious harm, he argues.
"Buyer beware," Offit says, warning consumers against the allure of know-it-all products, and the celebrities who back them, with a litany of examples in which alternative therapies sickened desperate patients who could have been healed by traditional medicine.
"We want to believe in magic," he says. "Otherwise, you're left with the notion of uncertainty – that medicine only knows so much, which is true."