10 incredible facts about the placebo effect

10 incredible facts about the placebo effect

Categories: Health and Medicine

What is the essence of the placebo effect? The doctor prescribes a pill to a person or prescribes any other form of treatment, saying that it will help to cope with his illness. And soon the person really begins to feel better. But it is not medicines that heal him, but the body and, first of all, the mind. The treatment itself, in fact, is a fake. Researchers have been interested for years in why the placebo effect works. After all, the discovery of deep mechanisms operating in the human subconscious mind will help to facilitate patient care and reduce the number of medications prescribed to them.

10 incredible facts about the placebo effect

For the first time, the placebo effect was recorded at the end of the XVIII century. Then the doctor from A Connecticut man named Elisha Perkins received a patent for the production of medical devices, which he called "tractors". They looked like metal sticks about 8 centimeters long. The doctor claimed that they were made of special materials, although in fact "Perkins tractors" consisted of an alloy of brass and steel. After the doctor declared that his invention helps to fight inflammation and relieves any pain manifestations, a stream of patients flooded to him. Perkins offered them to hold the "tractor" in the area of the sore spot for 20 minutes. Surprisingly, people claimed that they felt much better after the session.

10 incredible facts about the placebo effect

 

But there were also skeptics — many other doctors doubted the effectiveness of "tractors". British doctor John Haygarth decided to test his colleague's invention and conducted tests with various materials. He created "tractors" out of bone, lead, etc. And Haygarth's patients also talked about the miraculous effects of these devices, regardless of the material they were made of. John came to the conclusion that the improvement of the patients' condition did not depend on treatment, but on their thoughts and expectations.

Many believe that the placebo effect causes only psychological changes. Nevertheless, there is convincing evidence of the physical reaction of the body to taking false medications. In 2005 , researchers from The University of Michigan performed brain scans of 14 healthy young men. A solution that caused pain was injected into their jaw cavity. Soon, patients were given a placebo, calling it an effective painkiller. During the scan, the researchers saw that the areas of the brain responsible for the production of endorphins (pleasure hormones) were activated. The participants also stated that the pain had subsided, despite the fact that there were no objective prerequisites for this.

10 incredible facts about the placebo effect

This is interesting: during a similar experiment conducted in 2001, participants were given a placebo and additionally injected with drugs that block the production of endorphins in the body. The result was unexpected: this time the placebo effect did not work. These two studies allow us to conclude that it depends on endorphins whether taking harmless pills will be effective.

It's no secret that if someone is seriously ill, one of the fastest and most effective methods of treatment is injections of medications. This made the researchers think and test one interesting theory. They were interested in the question: if the placebo effect works when taking pills, will it be observed with placebo injections? In the middle of the 20th century, and then at the beginning of the 21st century, intensive research was conducted in this direction.

10 incredible facts about the placebo effect

Scientists compared the results of treatment of people who took sugar pills (and thought it was a medicine) and patients who received harmless placebo injections - the effectiveness was the same. It turned out that when using additional medical equipment (for example, needles) to inject the drug, improvements in the condition occurred faster and were more pronounced than when taking it orally. This once again confirmed the power of the placebo effect and proved that the objects associated with treatment at the subconscious level play a very important role in the healing process.

A placebo can help even in severe cases. For one of the experiments, scientists selected a group of 55 women who suffered from polycystic ovaries and tried to get pregnant. For six months, 33 participants were given a placebo, the remaining 32 underwent real medical treatment. And what do you think? In the "placebo group", five women were able to get pregnant, while in the group of patients who were actually treated, there were seven of them. Agree — the difference is not so big and can be attributed to a statistical error.

10 incredible facts about the placebo effect

In some other tests, the frequency of pregnancy with placebo reached 40%! According to scientists, harmless medications help relieve stress. This, in turn, leads to an improvement in the overall physiological state of the body, and women get pregnant.

You may have noticed that most of the tests tested whether a placebo could affect the body like real medications. It should be mentioned that reverse studies were also conducted, during which scientists tried to find out whether a real drug would help the patient if he was sure of its ineffectiveness? It turned out that there was no. Moreover, the reverse placebo effect is also manifested in the fact that the effects of any substances — even narcotic ones — can be blocked if a person does not expect that they will somehow affect him.

10 incredible facts about the placebo effect

Let's talk about an experiment confirming the above statement. German and English scientists scanned the brains of people who were given painkillers. Half of the group were told that they had drunk a very strong drug, while other patients were told that they were taking a placebo. As a result, it turned out that people who thought they had received painkillers soon experienced signs of relief. At the same time, real painkillers had no effect on patients who were confident that they had taken a placebo. That is, our expectations of treatment largely determine its success.

Researchers from The University of Cincinnati conducted a test on 12 patients with Parkinson's disease. They gave each patient a placebo, saying that it was an effective medicine that would help them cope with the disease. Yes, that's just some of them doctors casually said that their pills cost 15 times more expensive than an alternative medicine. Can you guess what results were obtained? In patients who were prescribed an "expensive medicine", the improvement of the condition occurred faster than in people who took its "cheap" analogue.

10 incredible facts about the placebo effect

Other interesting studies have also been conducted. So, during one of them, 67% of participants said that they felt better when they started taking an expensive placebo after a cheap one. Such results show how important a role our brain plays in the treatment process. If medicines are more expensive, people tend to believe that they will be more effective.

It's no secret that similar pills are produced by various pharmaceutical companies. Their composition is almost identical, only the names and packaging differ. Nevertheless, studies have shown that people are confident that branded drugs are more effective. It has been proven that if the manufacturer is widely advertised and known, the placebo in its packaging will really work better than the same dummy presented in a nondescript box.

10 incredible facts about the placebo effect

This is interesting: in reality, branded medicines often cost much more just because pharmaceutical companies invest a lot of money in research and marketing. They need to be returned somehow - that's why people overpay where they could save.

Taking a placebo brings more and more convincing results every year. First of all, this applies to antidepressants, sedatives and painkillers. Today, according to numerous studies, placebo works more effectively than, for example, 20 years ago. Experts attribute this fact to the fact that now patients have begun to treat doctors and modern methods of treatment with great confidence.

10 incredible facts about the placebo effect

It also plays a role that today it is not so easy to get a strong sedative or analgesic, as, in principle, an antidepressant. Before prescribing a prescription for a similar narcotic substance to a patient, the doctor communicates with the person for a long time, monitors him and concludes whether he really needs such potent medications. Well, after that, how can you not believe in their miraculous effect?

Even when patients know they are taking a placebo, treatment can still be effective. Researchers from Harvard University conducted a study of 80 patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome. Half of them were not prescribed any medications, while the rest of the patients were offered to take pacifiers, on the packaging of which it was written: Placebo. At the same time, the doctors focused on the fact that they were prescribed "placebo pills made from an inert substance, which are shown in clinical studies to eradicate symptoms of irritable bowel through psychophysical processes." Pay attention to how different this way of presenting information is from the one mentioned in the 5th paragraph.

10 incredible facts about the placebo effect

And what do you think? By the end of the trial, many of the subjects really felt better. Yes, only in the group that took pacifiers, there were twice as many of them as in the control group.

It's one thing to take a pill or get an injection, and it's quite another to have a placebo operation. Nevertheless, surgical intervention by default implies a physical impact on a specific organ. But recent experiments have shown that many people begin to feel better and literally heal even after placebo operations.

10 incredible facts about the placebo effect

For example, in Finland, surgeons worked with patients who needed surgery to repair torn cartilage tissues. Half of the patients had real operations. To other patients, doctors under local anesthesia (that is, the patients remained conscious) performed a small incision and pretended that they were carrying out the actions necessary for real surgical intervention. In reality, they didn't even touch the damaged tissues. Surprisingly, the improvements in both groups were almost the same.

This is interesting: in another study, without knowing it, people with vertebral problems took part. A vertebroplasty specialist performed reconstruction of damaged areas of the spine for half of the subjects. Other patients underwent false surgeries. And again, it turned out that placebo surgery is just as effective as real surgery.

And even though the mechanisms by which the real self—healing of the body takes place at the physical level are still unclear, the importance of this discovery is boundless.

It is not necessary to exclude the possibility that in the future people will be able to make treatment with placebo even more effective, after which it will gradually replace traditional methods as unnecessary. Just imagine: placebo-tooth filling or placebo-cyst removal. The possibilities of our consciousness are really limitless, it remains only to learn how to reveal and use them!

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