Fact or Myth: Can the Placebo Effect Work?

This is a FACT.

A placebo is a chemically inactive, harmless substance that has absolutely no physiological effect on the body…supposedly. Here’s where the mind enters: the placebo effect occurs when a patient believes he/she is receiving effective treatment for a condition, even though they are actually taking nothing more than a sugar pill, and feels better accordingly.

The power of belief apparently taps into very effective healing energy, as evidenced by numerous studies that show how placebos can work just as well as chemically active drugs. Even sham surgeries have generated the same recoveries as actual surgeries! Other studies have indicated that many conventional treatments are effective simply due to the placebo effect.

Researchers recently studied the placebo effect on Parkinson’s disease. Findings suggest that the costlier the drug, the more patients believe it works, and the more pronounced the placebo effect.

subconscious mind powerA Placebo for Parkinson’s

Published January 28, 2015 in the journal Neurology, this randomized, double-blind study tested the placebo effect on 12 Parkinson’s patients. One group of patients received a placebo that they were told was an expensive new drug costing $1,500 a pop. The other group received a placebo that they were told cost just $100 a dose. Both groups were assured that both “medications” were effective and would have similar effects, even though they were nothing more than saline injections.

The group receiving the “expensive” placebo exhibited greater short-term improvements in mobility and symptoms such as tremor and muscle stiffness. MRI scans revealed that the brain activity of patients in the costlier placebo group mimicked the brain activity typically found in Parkinson’s patients taking an actual Parkinson’s drug.

Referencing the study, neurologist Dr. Peter LeWitt explained: “Even a condition with objectively measured signs and symptoms can improve because of the placebo effect.”

Other conditions shown to be responsive to the placebo effect include headaches, depression, and degenerative meniscal tears. The placebo effect has even been proven to work when patients know they are receiving a placebo. For example, 60% of IBS patients told they were taking a placebo reported noticeable improvement in symptoms, whereas only 35% of IBS patients who received no treatment—not even a placebo—reported improvement.

How the Placebo Effect Works

Scientists do not yet know exactly how the placebo effect works, but the healing powers of the mind remain undisputed. In the case of Parkinson’s, researchers theorize that when a patient believes he/she is receiving treatment, it triggers the release of dopamine in the brain. Parkinson’s occurs when the brain cells responsible for producing dopamine become inept, which causes the mobility symptoms that characterize the disease. A fresh release of dopamine, therefore, would help alleviate these symptoms.

Similarly, researchers from the University of Southhampton in the United Kingdom found that people suffering from back pain who believed acupuncture would help them actually found more pain relief than people who didn’t believe the acupuncture would help.

Study author Felicity Bishop, PhD, reported: “People who started out with very low expectations of acupuncture, who thought it probably would not help them, were more likely to report less benefit as treatment went on.”

So, what’s the take away? Regardless of the condition or treatment protocol you choose, get your mind involved in the healing…belief can be a powerful tool!