Interesting Confirmation of the Placebo Effect

I heard about this a letter from nutritionist Jeff Rothschild’s mailing list. His website is here. There is a lotion containing sodium bicarbonate that is applied to the legs. It is supposed to get bicarb into your bloodstream and boost your performance and aid recovery from endurance activity. There’s solid science behind this: bicarb buffers the acidity in your bloodstream due to lactate accumulation from high intensity exercise. I first learned about this in Dr. Owen Anderson’s book Running Science [1]. The problem is you have to ingest a lot of bicarb to have an effect, which can cause gastric distress. So it seems logical to apply it topically and avoid that.

And I’ve seen testimonials swearing how great the lotion (called “PR lotion”) makes your legs feel. I’m not just talking about ads from the manufacturer, I’m talking about users on running and biking sites.

The lotion was put to the test in a study [2] where it was found the lotion does not increase bicarb levels in the blood, and therefore does not improve buffering capacity for lactate, and also does not improve performances. So we have a product that does not do what is scientifically claimed for it, but users still love it and swear by it. That’s got to be the placebo effect, which is very real. Jeff said he was almost reluctant to pass on the finding of the study because it might pop people’s bubbles.

References

  1. Anderson, O, Running Science, Human Kinetics, 2013

2. Alannah K , et al, “Topical Sodium Bicarbonate: No Improvement in Blood Buffering Capacity or Exercise Performance”, International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, (Ahead of Print) https://doi.org/10.1123/jspp.2019-0345. 2020 Human Kinetics, Inc

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