The healing power of placebo

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What is placebo?

Placebo is an inert substance believed by a patient to be a drug has effects similar to the actual drug. It's like a ghost that has the ability to heal.

The placebo effect

Whenever we take a medicine, our enigmatic mind persuades our body that this medicine is going to make us better. If we don't know whether we are taking medicine or placebo, our mind will still work and try to produce the same effect as the original medicine. This is known as the placebo effect.

Study on placebo

There has been a study on this effect by the University of Turin, Italy. They stated that, without the placebo effect some widely used drugs don't even work at all!

The study involved two groups of admitted patients who were waiting for an operation. They had a catheter inserted into their arm and were told it would be used to deliver an anti-anxiety drug. Only one of the groups was visited by a regular doctor. He would ask how they were, do some regular check ups like measuring blood pressure, recording temperature, heart rate etc and then fiddle with the line into the catheter saying, "You should be feeling better soon." On the other hand, the remaining group had no visit. They just had regular old fashioned hospital care.

Result of the study

This technique resulted in a conclusion that supports the idea of placebo. Only those who were visited by the doctor got benefit from the drug. The others reported no benefit during their stay at the hospital. That means, drugs don't work without the magic of placebo.

In fact, there is not just one placebo effect. There may be many effects according to situation. One is the belief as a patient ( "I'll be fine after getting the pill" ) and other is the thoughts about the attending physician ( "He/she was really nice to me" ) . Brain scan studies have shown that whenever placebo effects are at work, they have the same effect on the brain as the actual drug!

Take home message on placebo

We are just social creatures who respond emotionally to the world around us every moment. Our mind has a profound control over our body. If we ignore the side of ourselves that we value most, simple drugs will not bring too much change. That's why, the line between a drug and a placebo is getting increasingly blurred. This same emotional approach that power the placebo come into play when we make friends, care for our families, have faith in someone or when we decide to love someone.

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About the Author

Dr Rezahaider's picture
Author: Dr Rezahaider

I am a physician by profession. I dream to work on medicine in the near future. I have completed my residency three years back. Now, I am planning to obtain MRCP. This is very hard exam and surely, I am always scared of it. I have also decided to do my specialization on cardiology. Before medical school, I never thought that our heart could be so complex! So pray for me. I usually don't have enough time to write due to my studies. But whenever I get time I love to write. I write on medical related issues. I try to make it simple for you.