The Placebo Effect

The Placebo Effect

The placebo effect is a remarkable phenomenon in which a placebo-a fake treatment, an inactive substance like sugar, distilled water, or saline solution-can sometimes improve a patient’s condition simply because the person has the expectation or belief that the placebo will be helpful. A change in a person’s symptoms as a result of getting a placebo is called the placebo effect. One of the most common theories is that the placebo effect is due to a person’s expectations. If a person expects a pill to do something, then it’s possible that the body’s own chemistry can cause effects similar to what a medication might have caused.

The scientific study of the placebo effect is usually dated to the pioneering paper published in 1955 on “The Powerful Placebo” by the anesthesiologist Henry K. Beecher. Beecher concluded that, across the 26 studies he analyzed, an average of 32% or one-third of patients responded to placebo.

It has been shown that placebos can have beneficial as well as harmful physiological effects. They tend to speed up pulse rate, increase blood pressure, and improve reaction speeds. Placebos can also have detrimental physiological effects when participants are told they have taken a sleep-inducing drug. A negative placebo effect has been called the nocebo effect. For example, placebos can cause nausea, diarrhea, constipation, depression, pain and even menopause.

Researchers use placebos during studies to help them understand what effect a new drug or some other treatment might have on a particular condition. For instance, some people in a study might be given a new drug to increase calcium levels in their circulatory system. Others would get a placebo. None of the people in the study will know if they got the real treatment or the placebo. Researchers then compare the effects of the drug and the placebo on the people in the study. That way, they can determine the effectiveness of the new drug and check for side effects.

The placebo effect describes the vast strength of the mind and power of belief.

-Armaan Gandhi


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