Placebo power

It is estimate that around 50 per cent of General Practitioners in the United States use a placebo on occasion. On some levels this might seem a touch unethical but when a patient does not need medication why not try a placebo when there is plenty of research to show that placebos work? Now a new study has shown a further effect of placebo pills: they work even when the patient knows it is a placebo.

Placebos are pills that contain no active ingredients. They are usually used in clinical trials to compare with the effects of new drugs. What has emerged over the years however, is that placebos do have an effect. It is estimated that at least 30-40 per cent of patients will report feeling better and show objective improvement in symptoms when they are unknowingly taking a placebo. This is taken as an illustration of the power of the mind; because they believe they are taking something that will make them better, they do get better.

Another dimension has been added though by the finding that this will still apply even when people know they are taking a placebo.

In the new study patients with irritable bowel syndrome were divided into two groups. One group received no treatment. The other group received pills that they were told to take twice a day. It was made clear that these pills contained no active ingredient and were made from inert substances. In fact, the bottles containing the pills were clearly labelled “Placebo”.

After three weeks 39 per cent of the people receiving no treatment at all showed some improvements in symptoms. The people taking the placebo pills however, showed a massive 59 per cent of the group showing improvements. Additionally, the researchers reported that the people in the placebo group reported relief levels that were double that usually achieved by the most powerful irritable bowel syndrome medications available.

Something was healing these people but there was nothing in the pills they were taking and they knew it. Small studies like this are not final proof, but imagine if this is pointing to a power of the mind to heal in full knowledge that it is only the mind doing it! You can feel the ripples spreading throughout the pharmaceutical industry already.

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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