Placebos have been around for thousands of years and are the most widely studied treatments in the history of medicine. Every time your doctor tells you that the drug you take has been proved to work, they mean that it has been proved to work better than a placebo.
New research is zeroing in on a biochemical basis for the placebo effect — possibly opening a Pandora’s box for Western medicine.
A behavioral economist answers questions about the power of fake medicines, getting career advice and students who come late to class.
Beecher found himself considering the possibility that anytime he gave painkillers, part of the resulting relief was not from the drugs themselves, but from the patients’ conviction that they were going to feel better. Compelled by this logic, he set up the first program to study placebo effects and in 1955 published “The Powerful Placebo.” He reported that in a sample of more than 1,000 patients, placebos relieved the symptoms (not only pain) of a full 35 percent.
Since open-label placebos work, does this mean doctors should start handing them out like Smarties? That may be unwise because it would support a pill-popping, overmedicalised culture. Fortunately, our review of open-label placebos demonstrates something more general: placebo effects are real for many common conditions.
Placebo controls are a gold standard against which new treatments are often measured. If a new treatment consistently proves to be better than a placebo and safe, it can be marketed, sold and prescribed. Otherwise, it can’t – or at least shouldn’t. The problem is that, as our latest study reveals, researchers don’t report what placebos contain. Different placebos have different effects, and the choice of what’s in a placebo can lead to mistaken inferences about a new treatment’s benefits or harms.
It's not just mind over matter.
“Brad is part of the show. A human placebo.”
After 40 years, millions of procedures, and billions of dollars, doctors are questioning whether a common procedure is doing more harm than good. How much does heart disease depend on a patient’s state of mind?
Whatever the causes (and there are almost certainly more than one), the U.S. appears to hold the title of reigning placebo nation.
The power of belief compels you
Why the placebo effect is weirder and potentially more useful than we imagined.
The idea is at least worth considering—and it would explain a lot of strange things about how dieting works.
True or false: If I give you a placebo pill and tell you it will zap your back pain, it’s crucial that I not also tell you the pill is just made of sugar. Deception is a key ingredient for the mind to manufacture a remedy out of nothing, right?
That’s how we thought the placebo effect worked since its discovery some 70 years ago, but new research is offering a different take (or, at least, a modification of what we thought we knew).
What Kaptchuk demonstrated is what some medical thinkers have begun to call the "care effect" — the idea that the opportunity for patients to feel heard and cared for can improve their health.
Placebos can't cure diseases, but research suggests that they seem to bring some people relief from subjective symptoms, such as pain, nausea, anxiety and fatigue.
Belief is powerful medicine, even if the treatment itself is a sham. New research shows placebos can also benefit patients who do not have faith in them.
A placebo is a story we tell ourselves that changes the way our brain and our body work.
A placebo makes wine taste better, cancer drugs more effective and education significantly more efficient and effective.
There’s a miracle pill available to everyone. It can help you run faster, jump higher, lift stronger, think smarter, and be more confident. And it has no bad side effects.
But it’s not cheap. For some odd reason, the more you pay for it, the better it works.
A fascinating new study finds patients report worse side effects from placebo when they think it costs more money.
For decades doctors have documented the placebo effect — in which patients feel better after getting fake treatments (sugar pills, saline injections, sham surgeries) they believe to be the real thing. But do placebos merely trick the mind or can they genuinely heal the body?
Yes, the placebo effect is all in your mind. And it’s real.
Some say placebos are so powerful they cure almost anything, while others say they barely work. To sceptics, believing in placebos is as irrational as filling the gas tank of your car with Earl Grey tea“ and thinking it will run. In spite of this controversy many doctors give placebos to their patients. So it’s important to know the truth: if placebos work we might like to use them more, otherwise let’s stop fooling ourselves.
The placebo effect is strange—and it’s getting stranger. A sugar pill—if not revealed to the patient—can sometimes heal. Over the past two decades, a lot of clinical trials are showing that the sugar pill’s effects are getting stronger.
New evidence suggests the fake drugs may cause changes in the body, not just the mind.
The placebo effect is unquestionably real but not yet fully understood. It is now believed there are different types of placebo effect involving different mechanisms. These include response conditioning based on prior experience, expectation and reward effects mediated through the dopamine system and natural analgesia through the production of endorphins, the body’s own painkillers.
However, recent research shows placebos are merely one part of the much larger placebo effects or responses, which span an entire gamut of procedures, substances and rituals ranging from sham surgeries, acupuncture, yoga, chiropractic, massage, homeopathy to specific diets, dietary supplements, herbs to doctor-patient interactions and yes, even prayers.