Placebos work without deception


Placebos can be effective
24.12.2010

So far, scientists have always assumed that a placebo has a healing effect because patients believe in the supposed active ingredient of the preparation. But even if people know that the pills do not contain any active ingredients, placebos can develop healing powers and alleviate symptoms and symptoms, for example.

In a series of experiments, US scientists from Harvard Medical School found that dummy medications (so-called placebo) also contribute to the healing process when the test subjects were informed that the pills are actually without active pharmaceutical ingredients and consist only of sugar . In doing so, the researchers are throwing overboard all the theses that have been made up to now on this topic. Because the placebo effect has always been synonymous with the power of positive thinking. Placebo effects cause psychological factors of somatic changes. Up to now, science has always assumed that these effects are triggered by the generation of expectations or by a conditioned stimulus. The triggered neuronal activations in the brain could then influence the metabolism and thereby cause positive physical reactions. Always assumed that the patient does not know that the remedy has no effect, at least that is the common opinion of science.

Placebos work, even if the test subjects are informed about them. However, Harvard researchers documented completely opposite observations in the research journal "Plos One". Even if people are aware that they are taking an ineffective preparation, alleviation of the suffering can at least be achieved subjectively, the scientists write in the magazine. “We not only made it absolutely clear that these tablets did not contain any effective ingredients, we even printed placebo on the packaging,” said study author Ted Kaptchuk. The researchers did not even animation to believe in the success of the sham drug. “We told the patients that they don't necessarily have to believe in the placebo effect. You should just take the tablets. "

Placebo is typically used in clinical trials to assess the therapeutic efficacy of various procedures as accurately as possible, ideally in double-blind studies. The drug-free sugar pills are intended to provide proof that the active ingredients to be tested do not fail to achieve their goal. For this purpose, patient groups are usually divided into two groups of the same size. One group receives the dummy drug and the other group receives the test preparation. If the test agent works better than the placebo, the result serves as proof that the new agent actually works.

However, researchers repeatedly observed that the placebos also did not miss their supposed effect and also had a positive effect on recovery. The success rate of dummy products is often so high that many doctors often prescribe a placebo for their patients. Recent studies even point out that in some cases over 50 percent of the patients achieve efficacy targets with such sham drugs. However, it is ethically questionable when doctors prescribe a drug that is actually of no medical use. That is why the research team led by Ted Kaptchuk investigated the question of how people react to such apparent preparations when they know that the agents are without active ingredients.

A total of 80 women and men with irritable bowel syndrome participated in the study. For the experiment, the participants were divided into two groups of the same size. One group received no funds and the other group was given different placebos. The dummy medication was clearly marked with "sugar pills". The second group was instructed to take the medication twice a day without any medicinal ingredient.

The study lasted a total of three weeks. During this time, the doctors closely monitored the participants. At the end of the experimental set-up, in contrast to the control group, almost twice as many placebo subjects stated that they felt a significant relief from their intestinal complaints. The rate of "healing" was about as high as that of those taking actual medication for bowel problems. 59 percent said they noticed an improvement in the symptoms. In the comparison group it was only 35 percent. "I didn't think it worked so well," said Anthony Lembo, one of the initiators of the study. “I felt strange asking patients to take a placebo. But to my surprise, it worked for a lot of them. ”

Results cannot be finally assessed
However, the scientists are now warning to draw conclusions from the study results. The number of participants would be too small to speak of facts. The result is just another indication that an ineffective remedy can actually support a healing process, even if patients are informed about the placebo. "Nevertheless, it is obviously more than just positive thinking," says Ted Kaptchuk. "There seems to be a clear effect from a simple medical ritual." The researchers' observations are also shared among naturopathic practitioners. A detailed discussion about a patient's symptoms alone can make a decisive contribution to the patient's recovery. (sb)

Also read:
Placebo can increase sexual sensitivity
Psyllium helps with irritable bowel syndrome

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