Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

Placebos help, even when patients know about them

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Monday, December 27, 2010

Personally, I’ve enjoyed the chocolate and strawberry flavored placebos.

Placebos help, even when patients know about them

Wed Dec 22, 2010
5:50PM EST WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Placebos can help patients feel
better, even if they are fully aware they are taking a sugar pill, according to researchers who reported Wednesday on an unusual experiment aimed at better understanding the “placebo effect.”

Researchers reported in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE that nearly 60 percent of patients with Irritable bowel syndrome reported they felt better after knowingly taking placebos twice a day, compared to 35 percent of patients who did not get any new treatment.

Ted Kaptchuk of Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, who led the study, said, “Not only did we make it absolutely clear that these pills had no active ingredient and were made from inert substances, but we actually had ‘placebo’ printed on the bottle.”

The placebo effect has been documented almost since the beginning of medicine. Placebos are also vital to research on new medicines or treatments, and in general, scientists have documented that 30 percent to 40 percent of patients will report feeling better, or will show documented improvement of symptoms even when unknowingly taking a placebo. But it’s considered unethical to give a patient a placebo as part of standard medical treatment and not tell them that it is just a sugar pill. (ed. Except in double blind, placebo controlled studies, where neither researchers nor patients know which patient/research participant is receiving what substance.)

Most people have assumed that a placebo will not work if the patient knows it is a placebo. To test that commonly-accepted notion, Kaptchuk and colleagues recruited 80 volunteer patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS, a chronic condition characterized by abdominal pain for a “mind-body” study, and gave them either placebo, or nothing, for three weeks and carefully monitored them. Those given placebos were reminded they were taking inert pills. Anthony Lembo, an IBS expert who worked on the study said, “I felt awkward asking patients to literally take a placebo. But to my surprise, it seemed to work for many of them.

The study was funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

(Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by Jackie Frank)

(Additional editing by WSB.)

This story is from the News Pro iPhone application from Thomson Reuters. http://r.reuters.com/ruk43r

To put News Pro on your iPhone or Blackberry, visit: http://reuters.com/mobile

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