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Science Behind the Placebo Effect

by Dr. Enozia Vakil on  May 21, 2013 at 11:19 AM Health In Focus   - G J E 4
Probably the most controversial, yet amazing aspect of medicine is the placebo effect. The idea that somehow, a simple sugar pill, or a drugless 'medicine' can provide pain relief and act as an effective treatment seems silly enough, however, it is actually true.
Science Behind the Placebo Effect
Science Behind the Placebo Effect
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The science behind

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Probably the most controversial, yet amazing aspect of medicine is the placebo effect. The idea that somehow, a simple sugar pill, or a drugless 'medicine' can provide pain relief and act as an effective treatment seems silly enough, however, it is actually true.

Though numerous studies have confirmed the effectiveness of the placebo effect, there was little evidence to suggest how it actually worked. Thanks to the new research carried out by Tor Wager, a PhD from the University of Michigan, the actual process behind the entire placebo effect is now scientifically proven, and published in the journal Science .

The study involved around two dozen people, who were told that a pain relieving cream was being tested on them, while only the researcher knew that it was just a placebo alternative.

To view the brain activity of those subjected to the treatment, MRI scans were done while the subjects were being subjected to a shock treatment after they had applied the 'pain relieving cream.'

The MRI scans revealed that the prefrontal cortex region of the brain showed an activity which was similar to that when an actual medicine is used.

Some amazing facts

Apart from human beings, animals, especially dogs, have also demonstrated positive results when treated with placebo effect. To confirm the existence of placebo effect in animals, a group of epileptic dogs were taken as subjects, some of which were given a regular drug and the others were given a placebo. Dogs showed extremely positive reaction to the placebo as well.

Over the years, placebo has also been shown to somehow heal physical injuries. 'Fake surgeries', wherein the physicians performed no actual surgery, and just cut the patient open and sewed him back together, have proved to be effective.

Yet another miracle is that the placebo effect gets more powerful as time passes on. Several tests and studies have demonstrated that when a person is ill, he visits a physician, takes some pills and gets well soon enough, and this continues over the years with the faith of health and recovery building up.

A few extras

As the placebo effect is completely dependent on the perception and expectation, there may be various factors that can change the perception level of the patient.

In case it is brought to the notice of the patient that he is being treated with an ineffective drug or injection, the placebo effect disappears, however, this may not be the case with all patients, as some patients have demonstrated positive results after being subjected to a placebo treatment.

A study revealed that cool colored pills have proven to be good relaxants and hot colored pills as stimulants. It also depends on the doctor as well; another study concluded that a more kind and enthusiastic doctor increased the placebo effect in the patient from 44-64%.

The duration of a placebo effect depends on the medical condition that the patient is suffering from-2 and a half year for rheumatoid arthritis, 6 months for angina pectoris and 8 weeks for panic disorder.

Source: Medindia
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