Placebo (comes from Latin for ‘I will please’) is a simulated medical treatment with no therapeutic value, its purpose is to deceive the recipient and can merely affect the patients psychologically, however Placebo can often produce an actual improvement in their conditions. Is this magic or medicine?
- In a recent study 50 percent of Parkinson's patients showed improved motor function after receiving a Placebo.
- Psychiatric illness has among the highest rates of Placebo response - anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of the people in a depression medication study will respond to Placebo.
- Placebo can keep heart failure patients alive. In a worldwide study with thousands of patients, those taking a Placebo regularly experienced similar reduced mortality as those taking a heart failure pill.
- Placebo won't shrink a tumour or reduce a fever but they do affect pain, insomnia, anxiety, asthma, depression, irritable bowels and stomach ulcers (subjective symptoms).
- You can even Placebo yourself into inebriation.
New drugs are always tested against Placebo preparations as the control group in clinical trials in order to assess the efficiency of drug before it is marketed. When neither the patient nor the doctor is aware of which preparation an individual has been given this is called a ‘double blind trial’. A more realistic and accurate set of results can be obtained in this way.
The Placebo effect itself remains mysterious. Doctors still don’t fully understand how it operates and why its effect can be varied from large, small or non-existent for a given treatment or patient. It seems the power of Placebo increases when the size of the pill is bigger or there’s larger number of them. If someone believes the Placebo would have a negative effect, they can experience that negative effect. This is called a Nocebo.
Our minds tell us to believe a brand named drug works better than a generic drug; an expensive drug with good packing is better than a discount drug- even though the active ingredients are exactly the same and manufacturer is the only difference. A placebo injection has bigger effect than a placebo tablet- the appearance of drugs had almost as big an impact on health as whether the pills had any drug in them.
The scientists are faced with a paradox when it comes to the use of a Placebo. It is beneficial when it eases your pain from a migraine and helps you recover from depression or anxiety. It also has the advantage of producing fewer side effects. However the biggest concern for the doctors is the act of having to deceive their patients. Patients should have the right to be honestly and fully informed about the treatments or medicines that they are taking. It is genuinely unethical for doctor to prescribe placebo to patients who are in a life or death situation as it cannot cure the illness, which effectively means the patients are sacrificing their safety for the investigation of new treatments.
Your brain has the power to generate effects in response to whatever it believes to be true. So the next time when you feel under weather, be positive and make the magic happen.