The Amazing Power of the Placebo

Science can sometimes be very counterintuitive. Sometimes more questions are brought up than are answered. And this is exciting because in those instances when we didn't expect the results, it leads to asking more questions and opens the door for new avenues of exploration. It furthers our understanding of the universe which is always a good thing.

Here is a study on placebos on Scientific American that is just fascinating. It has been well established that placebos can be used to help people feel better and improve their symptoms. But there is always trickery involved. The patient is told the placebo is a real medication.

In this study, eighty patients suffering from IBS were randomized to either open-label placebo pills presented as “placebo pills made of an inert substance, like sugar pills, that have been shown in clinical studies to produce significant improvement in IBS symptoms through mind-body self-healing processes” or no-treatment controls with the same quality of interaction with providers.

The bottles even had "placebo" written on them! After three weeks, 60 percent of the placebo group reported relief from symptoms, compared to 35 percent who’d received no treatment at all. That's pretty significant.

Other studies have found that the very act of spending time with a patient, paying attention to them, is very powerful. This is evident in research such as a double blinded acupuncture study that was done (I think it was a couple years ago). But this is a fascinating result. Hopefully other scientists will follow up with more investigation into this phenomenon.

I guess a spoonful of sugar really does help the medicine go down, or can be the medicine itself.

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