Is it all in the mind?

The question of psychological response, the ‘placebo effect’, needs dealing with fairly comprehensively because it always crops up with new medical treatments. Yes, some of the results described could be due to psychological influence; but in such cases they would be unlikely to last for more than a few weeks at the most. The proper answer to the question heading this paragraph is therefore, no. The beneficial effects produced by mussel extract are not of a psychological origin. That some psychosomatic influence may help the working of the treatment, any treatment in fact, is not doubted. Psychosomatic therapy in the form of a placebo is used by medical practitioners quite frequently where it is thought that this type of therapy will help a patient.

A placebo is a substance used in medicine (primarily in trial work) that does not have any pharmacological effect on the disorder. It is often in the form of a sugar pill or coloured water. The idea is that in a trial, some patients are administered a pharmacologically active substance and some a placebo which looks like the active substance but which is known to have no effect. A comparison of the patient’s progress on active and placebo then gives an ‘objective’ assessment of the effect of the active substance and rules out psychosomatic response.

Where the placebo is used in general practice it is done as a straight psychological treatment. The patient believing that the pills or liquid are something which will help the ailment, can be influenced into feeling and becoming better. This effect of psychosomatic influence is well known and is valuable.

First, the results would not be lasting. With such a painful condition as arthritis a psychosomatic or placebo effect would probably wear off after four to six weeks at the very most. With the extract treatment the results are long lasting. Second, animals are unlikely to respond to a psychological stimulus, especially when they do not even know in most cases that they are receiving any medication. Animals respond very well to mussel extract. Finally, clinical studies are carried out in a way that is designed to eliminate as far as possible any emotional influences of the trial patients. In clinical studies the extract demonstrates excellent results.

Can this substance be obtained from other shellfish?

Naturally, the discovery of the anti-arthritic effect of an extract from the New Zealand Green Lipped Mussel led to the theory that other types of mussels or shellfish may also possess the same property. This does not seem to be the case, however, and apparently only this one species of mussel can lay claim to these particular therapeutic powers. This should not surprise us. Some species of marine organisms, similar in many ways, differ because of geographical distribution; sometimes the same species growing in waters of the same ocean, but in different regions, can vary in certain characteristics. One obvious influence is the diet to which a particular group is exposed: another is environment, including, of course, the composition of the water.

Therefore, it may not only be that other species of mussels do not posses this particular activity, but possibly even the same species grown in other areas may not do so. This last factor has not yet been established, but it is not an unreasonable assumption.


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