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A great new drug called “placebo”

A great new drug called “placebo” December 27, 2010

This reminds me of an old Steve Martin routine, when he played a “wild and crazy guy” in a white suit with a fake arrow through his head.  He was going on about how he found this new drug that gave a mind-blowing high.  It’s called “placebo.”

Imagine your doctor gives you fake medication and tells you it’s nothing more than a sugar pill. Would it still work?

Incredibly, according to a new study of patients with irritable bowel syndrome, the placebo effect, even when patients were in on the secret, worked almost as well as the leading medication on the market.

It’s also a lot cheaper. And the best part about placebo – no side effects.

“I didn’t think it would work,” said senior author and Harvard Medical School associate professor of medicine at Anthony Lembo in a statement. “I felt awkward asking patients to literally take a placebo. But to my surprise, it seemed to work for many of them.”

Researchers at the Harvard Medical School’s Osher Research Center and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center split 80 patients into two groups. One group was given placebos and informed of it. The other group was given nothing.

“Not only did we make it absolutely clear that these pills had no active ingredient and were made from inert substances, but we actually had ‘placebo’ printed on the bottle,” said Harvard Medical School associate professor of medicine Ted Kaptchuk. “We told the patients that they didn’t have to even believe in the placebo effect. Just take the pills.”

After three weeks. the placebo group reported adequate symptom relief at double the rate of the group told to do nothing (59 percent vs. 35 percent). And those results are about as good as the leading irritable bowel syndrome drugs on the market.

Researchers sounded the usual cautionary notes. The study was small. It’s not clear what it would mean for other conditions and more research is needed.

via Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Placebo Works Even if Patients Know – Health Blog – CBS News.

Somebody should–quick–manufacture sugar pills under the brand name “Placebo” and market them as treatments for all diseases.

Anybody have any theories that would explain these results?  I’d be curious about a theory that explains the placebo effect in any event–how is it that a mental belief can affect a physical ailment?  Second, how can a mental belief affect a physical ailment when it isn’t a mental belief?


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