Belief can be a very powerful thing. It can be so powerful that it changes the course of one’s health, known as the placebo effect . Placebo, in Latin, means “I will please”. It is not a real medicine, but looks like a regular medication or treatment. A popular form of the placebo is a sugar pill, but also can take the form of a procedure, an injection, or any other form of therapy that does not actually treat the illness at hand. The patient is not actually getting treatment that will directly cause improvement of symptoms. Still, the power of the brain to improve one’s condition is remarkable.
But what happens when people know that the pill they are taking is a placebo? In a study, 80 participants (mean age: 47 years old) had irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and were part of a randomized, controlled, three-week trial. The participants were put into one of two groups: control and placebo. The control group did not receive any treatment, and the placebo group received a non-deceptive placebo. The provider of the placebo clearly told the participants that it was inactive, like a sugar pill with no medication. Then, they were told four points from a 15-minute script, explaining that the placebo effect is powerful, the body can automatically respond to a placebo, a positive attitude helps, and being faithful in taking the pills is critical.
At the midpoint of the trial, day 11, the participants were examined and assessed. Already the placebo group had significantly better results in their symptoms improving. Specifically, there were significant results in global improvement, adequate relief, and symptom severity reduction. These results were still significant at the end of the trial. This is a fascinating thing, as the participants knew it was inactive! But pairing the placebo with a positive outlook and the other points that were made, the results are clear.
Some things do need to be considered. This was only one study that looked at an open-label placebo, and may not be able to be generalized for other areas outside of IBS. Also, these results did not get followed up on, and only lasted three weeks. Replications of this study need to be conducted, and those results would be interesting to see.
If these findings can be generalized, people can improve their symptoms by believing it is possible and taking a sugar pill. The power of the mind is undeniable, and can lead to exciting revelations about what truly heals an individual.
- Inside “60 Minutes” placebo story (cbsnews.com)
- “Sucrosa. It’s a pill.” (howtospotapsychopath.com)
- Of placebos and straw men (junkcharts.typepad.com)
- Placebos could reduce the side effects of drug treatments (rawstory.com)
- Mind over Matter? (bizgovsociii.wordpress.com)
- Embracing the Placebo Effect of Antidepressants. (jailmedicine.com)