A cure in the mind.
The mind really does possess its own healing power, according to a study that found dummy pills work even when patients know they are fake. Described as the “placebo effect”, patients have long been known to show improvements when given bogus drugs and told they are real.
The phenomenon was thought to result from the body being tricked into producing an effect by itself that would have been brought about by the drugs.
However the new study challenges this assumption.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School have found that placebos work even when the patients are explicitly told they are not real.
They believe the simple “medical ritual” encourages the brain into activating the healing process in the body.
Placebos—or dummy pills—are typically used in clinical trials to act as checks against patients using potential new medications.
Even though they contain no active ingredients, patients have often been found to respond to them.
Professor Ted Kaptchuk divided 80 patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) into two groups.
One group received no treatment, while the other group received placebos—honestly described as “like sugar pills”—which they were instructed to take twice daily.
They were told that the pills had no medically active ingredients and the box they came in had placebo written on it.
By the end of the three week trial, nearly twice as many patients treated with the placebo reported improvements in their condition compared with those with no medication.
Prof Kaptchuk said: “These findings suggest that rather than mere positive thinking, there may be significant benefit to the very performance of medical ritual.
“I’m excited about studying this further. Placebo may work even if patients knows it is a placebo.”
The study was published in the journal PROS One.