The Mysterious Power of Placebos

Published on: 24/01/2023

Discover the mysterious power of placebos and the science behind how fake treatments can sometimes have real effects on our health.

Scientists and medical professionals have been interested in the placebo effect for hundreds of years. But what exactly is the placebo effect, and how does it work?

Simply put, the placebo effect is when a patient's symptoms get better after they get a fake treatment that isn't supposed to work. This improvement can be caused by a number of things, such as the patient's hopes, the power of suggestion, and the brain's release of chemicals that make people feel good.

One of the most interesting things about the placebo effect is that it can occur even when the patient knows they are receiving a fake treatment. In fact, some studies have found that placebos can be just as effective as real treatments in certain situations. For example, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that placebos were as effective as medications at reducing pain in patients with irritable bowel syndrome.

So, why does the placebo effect work? Scientists believe that it may be due to the power of the brain to influence our perception of pain and other physical sensations. When we expect a treatment to work, our brains may release chemicals that help us feel better, leading to an improvement in our symptoms. An example of this is endorphins, which are our bodies' natural painkillers and are released during exercise. This is one example of how the placebo effect can be seen to work in the real world. 

The placebo effect is not just limited to physical symptoms; it can also have an impact on our mental health. Studies have found that placebos can improve symptoms of anxiety, depression, and even Parkinson's disease. Some studies show that placebos can also help with pain, sleep problems, irritable bowel syndrome, and the menopause. In addition, placebo inhalers are also found to give asthmatic patients a feeling of relief and recovery, despite there being no working drug in the placebo.

Placebos are typically used in research to help understand if a new drug really is working or if a certain drug effect is due to the placebo effect. For instance, half of a test population may receive the true treatment while the other half receives a specially manufactured placebo with the same physical characteristics as the real drug. This may include having the same color, shape, form, or taste as the real thing. By doing this, the subjects and researchers are less likely to notice a difference between the two. In addition, side effects can be monitored by noting the difference between the drug and the placebo.

Even though the placebo effect may seem like magic, it is a well-known phenomenon that scientists have studied in depth. The next time you hear someone say that a placebo "doesn't work," remember that the science behind it is much more complex and fascinating than you might think. Discuss this with your doctor and ask about placebo treatments and how they can help you. After all, there's no actual chemical drug to try! It's risk-free.