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Side Effects

The New Physician March-April 2015 Volume 64, Number 2


Finally a use for those colorful foam stress relievers, aside from throwing them angrily at roommates. Researchers at the University of Surrey in the U.K. tried out different distraction techniques that could be used with conscious patients during surgery. The researchers gave patients stress balls to squeeze when they felt anxious. They also tried dedicating a nurse to carry on a running conversation with the patient throughout the procedure, as well as offering a selection of DVDs. Ironically, the stress balls did not help as much with anxiety compared to the running conversation with a nurse, but they did help with pain: Patients reported 22 percent less pain from a varicose vein procedure. Maybe they’d help with pain and anxiety from surgical rotations as well.


When it comes to placebos, better go name brand. Twelve Parkinson’s patients were told they were receiving new drugs that would help their bodies produce dopamine. The drug, as it was explained to them, would come in two forms, one that cost $100 and one that cost $1,500. Those who received the “expensive” shot—both shots were actually saline—performed better on motor skills tests, researchers reported in the journal Neurology. Real-world use of this name-brand placebo effect may be almost impossible, though, because of the ethical complexity of misleading patients. But maybe they won’t mind if they think you’re giving them the top-shelf stuff.


If the kids hit the monkey bars before lunch, they’ll theoretically eat more vegetables in the cafeteria. Like true lunchroom monitors, researchers stood next to school cafeteria trashcans and counted the servings of fruits and vegetables being thrown away. The researchers, publishing their findings in Preventive Medicine, found that children in schools that had moved recess ahead of lunch ate 54 percent more fruits and vegetables. It’s not clear if the kids are swapping out their rectangular slabs of school lunch pizza for those veggies. And should we be counting tater tots as a vegetable? Because you know none of those are making it into the trash.