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Obecalp Placebo

Tuesday, July 08, 2008 - 09:44 AM

A listener recently sent us an email alerting us to a new dietary supplement released in June called Obecalp. Obecalp, which is Placebo spelled backwards, is a cherry-flavored chewable dextrose pill meant to trick children into believing they are getting a medicine that will make them feel better.

Jennifer Buettner, the creator of the pill, has this to say on her website:

Hi. I'm Jen. I am a mommy. It's what I love. It's my job to make owies go away. Whether it's a kiss or a Band-aid, the magic happens immediately. This is the power of placebo. I have a baby girl and two sons. One of them always needs my comfort and the knowledge that I will make them feel better. I invented Obecalp when I realized that children might need a little more than a kiss to make it go away. Obecalp fills the gap when medicine is not needed but my children need something more to make them feel better. You'll know when Obecalp is necessary.

At first glance, the idea of it seemed absurd and possibly irresponsible. But searching the topic turned up a New York Times article on Obecalp that brought up an interesting point. Despite the fact that most medical professionals interviewed scoffed at the idea of Obecalp or even protested that it might be dangerous, the reality is that many doctors have admitted to prescribing antibiotics under pressure to patients whom they are nearly certain are suffering from a viral illness that antibiotics won't cure. Few would argue that this is a good practice, but it's certainly common enough that doctors sometimes find it easier to send patients home with an actual drug just to make them feel better psychologically.

What do you think about this? Would you give an upset child a sugar pill and tell them it would make them feel better?

And if you haven't heard our Placebo show, check it out.


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Comments [20]

Alicia from Ontario, Canada

When I read the phrase "At first glance, the idea of it seemed absurd and possibly irresponsible" in the summary above, I had to chuckle. As a 'mommy' by night, and neuroscientist by day, MY first glance elicited a sense of "been there" nostalgia, and an appreciation for the facetiousness of the name Obecalp. This isn't a product I'd use with my 5 yr old, but the sentiment is easy to relate to. I have spun all kinds of webs with my son for different purposes. For instance, he hates tomatoes, but thinks sundried tomatoes are meat. He begs for this raw kale salad I make with shredded Parmesan, pine nuts, and "that meat I like" and for years I have happily played along. When a kid asks for kale, you don't mess with that. When he's had terrible coughs, I have given him his 5mL of children's acetaminophen while cooing "this will make you feel better." And I suppose it isn't a lie, since he WILL feel better - because he thinks he should. Am I worried about creating a hyper-medicated child? Umm no. Probably most of the people commenting here were told little lies by their parents too. Perhaps the Tooth-Fairy rings a bell? I prioritize my parenting; I prefer to focus on raising a child who isn't an asshole. The rest kind of just falls into place.

Mar. 08 2017 02:07 PM

I agree with all the no pills comments. My daughter teaches my grandson to identify and articulate any ills. There are a host of actual remedies that she employs that not only nurture and protects him, but teaches him how to care for himself. For example, when he's sick to his stomach, she gives him a very light version of organic mint or ginger tea and he has a timer that he uses to take a small sip every 7 minutes while he reads or watches a calming program. If he has a headache she might have him hydrate himself with a glass of warm water, and then lay quietly in a dark room while she rubs his head. She has many tricks up her sleeve that are logical, real, nurturing and LOVEly and don't teach us to rid ourselves of all our feelings with a pill.

Jan. 31 2017 06:26 PM

I don't think this is that new an idea. My mother was a nurse and she used to bring "aspirin" home from the hospital and give it to us when we complained (in the 60s). She later explained that they were placebos and they worked.

Jan. 06 2017 10:55 AM
Marie from Zephyr Cove, NV

I remember feeling really sick before a piano competition as a child, and my teacher giving me something that had a prodigious effect. It was clear like water and slightly sweet. When my mom picked me up, she was concerned, she knew I had a headache before going, and the teacher said. Oh, I gave her some Aqua Simplex, and she felt better right away, I believe she winked took me years to figure out my mom's laugh...

Dec. 08 2016 10:56 PM

placebo's dont work on children. look it up. the kids feel better because of their attentiveness to their parents attitude, which apparently is to act like a doctor. the placebo is working on the parent.

Dec. 03 2016 09:20 PM
Mark j kropf from Port Jefferson, NY

The mechanism for placebo action seems to be release of Endorphins and activation of reward centers, though not the classical Dopamine receptors in all likelihood, not being blocked by Clonidine.
The issue to me seems not to be the risk of complications at some physical level, but that of Ethical concerns.
I find, when I give some supposed remedy to my patients for their ills, that I can state that the 'fix' is of dubious value and can still have benefit, so long as it is part of the patient's value system. Perhaps a parent has a different setting, but use of a Placebo by a practitioner when found out by a patient may lead to distrust. There is some reliance on honesty and trust that might be yet preserved in the parental relationship that is not there in other circumstances.
Differential response is certainly dependant upon underlying belief systems. Use of a modality to reduce stress, whether biofeedback, meditation, exercise or yoga are only workable if perceived to be so beforehand.

Dec. 03 2016 04:18 PM
Linus Orri from Reykjavík, Iceland

I would be afraid that I would be teaching my child substance dependancy.

Nov. 18 2016 08:28 AM

To those looking for the placebo episode, I found it here

The other thing that this reminded me was the (hoax) article on the effect of maternal kissing of boo-boos. Maybe there should be another research using those pills :-)

Nov. 12 2016 03:15 PM
Google me jeffreydavidmorris from Earth

Tricking children? Sigh, know this: Jesus - "If ANY shall exhibit keeping ANY of these Little One's from ME, they will NEVER see my Father"! BECAUSE say< ALL that you see & hear re: children in the local - global News, it is THEY that are closest unto HIM, represent HIM, misc & are granted automatic entry into Heaven if human death comes about their temporary human life. So Humanity NEEDS to be very careful, misc what you speak, just saying. White Lion's: "When the Children Cry" -

Sep. 08 2016 05:55 PM

Assuming for a moment that the sensation of taste imparts no psychological reward or aversion in itself, can we truly rule out that a substance that is biologically active is the best candidate for consideration as a "placebo"?

Sep. 04 2016 10:01 AM
Meghan from RI

Also trying to listen to this show. I heard a glimpse on the radio, but was not able to continue. Thought it would come up in my podcast subscription, but it hasn't, and I also can't access here. Why are some shows not podcasts?! Have I been missing out on others?!?

Aug. 18 2016 10:31 PM

I'd love to listen to this story, but the "Placebo" link in the text above doesn't work. Is it still possible to access this piece?

Aug. 10 2016 09:45 AM
Nancy C from Oregon

The well-timed occasional use of the sugar pill sounds like an effective solution to our psychological need for comfort. I would recommend it after the kiss and a soothing drink of herbal tea don't do the trick.

Aug. 09 2016 04:27 PM
X3r0 Tucker from Chicago

While I agree in part with the comments here, I think they oversimplify the situation of the mother popping her kids a magical pill. Life for real is often different than the life from review that commenters use to base their comments.

I imagine (and remember) that in "life for real" there are/may be many of the occasions that the above commenters point toward that get resolved just as they would hope - with the mother urging the child to learn to distinguish pain that truly indicates you need seek help from that which, while uncomfortable, neeeds to just be tolerated.

I further imagine, that there are situations more complicated that arent easily reduced to "mind over matter" teaching opportunities, for instance, what if the child truly is in the pain that needs seek help, but for whatever reason there is a delay or issue in recieving that help? Or what if even doctors' perscribed treatmens are failing, or what if the problem is occuring while the family is preroccupied ogverseeing a funderal for a family member, or in an airplane packed with people and sitting on the tarmac waiting to taxi. . .

While at the end of the day, "pain" is the only unobjective and purely created sense - literally - the fact that it is all mental, doesn't make it any less real because from the conscious viewpoints where we live our lives, reality starts at that line where it becomes mental, not before.

Jul. 17 2015 02:15 AM

I say huzzah for this pill. It would be an excellent teaching tool for kids, the parents can tell the kids after they feel better that they just wolfed down nothing. I agree that we rely an excessive amount on medications, but I don't think this is going to cause some massive upsurge in it, countering it is going to have to take place in education and the like anyway. And like I said: An excellent way to teach people, right from the start, that they don't need pills. Get a kid hooked on his Obecalps for all his ills, then when he's 12 tell him "Oh yeah, by the way... those pills didn't do anything." Also a very excellent way to tell whether a kid is faking the severity of an illness or whether a doctor visit is in order.

But maybe it's also partly because I hate kids...

Jul. 11 2008 06:02 PM

I have two children, boys 4 and 6, who cry all the time. And boy, can they act like nobody's business. I have Oscars lining our mantle in the family room. When my kids cry, I tell there is no need to cry I know it hurts, and they stop. They are still growing out of the infant stage where crying brings some wonder of goodness. Now that they are old enough to use their words, lets hear what they have to say.

I agree, pills bad.

Jul. 09 2008 01:40 PM

I agree with the above commenters. Even though it's not as fast or easy, isn't it smarter to teach your children to feel better on their own, without the aid of medicine or drugs?

Jul. 08 2008 03:24 PM

Hey, this has nothing to do with the above post, but did you guys know you got a shout out last night by the band Fleet Foxes on NPR's All Songs Considered? You can hear them recommending your program toward the end of their set, which is available streaming at the All Songs Considered website.

Jul. 08 2008 02:07 PM

Hurray! Another thing to teach children that problems can be solved with a pill!

While doctors may prescribe placebos to patients, I think the hassle and cost involved is at least some deterrent from getting into the habit of fixing things with pills. This, however, cuts through that completely and brings it into the home, only to reinforce the idea that pills will help you out of anything. Regarding making children "feel better," it really does a child disservice to not teach them that there are things out of our control and all you can do is wait till your body has done what it must.

I really think the hassles of doctor visits encourage prudence regarding medication and helps teach that waiting something out, or making due, is a good lesson learned and often the best medicine.

Jul. 08 2008 11:39 AM
Michael Newton

Sounds like we're preparing children for life in our hyper-medicated society, where every one of our ills is a "syndrome" or "dysfunction" that can fortunately be cured by popping the pharmaceutical industry's latest offering.

Not that I'm a cynic or anything...

Jul. 08 2008 11:36 AM

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