Many of us are familiar with the idea that the placebo effect entails feeling
better after taking something we thought was medicine but was, in fact,
a sugar pill. But you may be wondering to what extent it can actually
change your physical state. Studies suggest that, in essence, the placebo
effect can elicit measurable positive responses and a patient’s
condition can actually improve.
This effect, also known as the placebo response, is when a neutral substance
-- a placebo -- is taken in the place of medication. The patient is typically
unaware that their medication is a placebo, and in some cases an improvement
in health occurs afterwards. A common question is whether the placebo
has a lasting impact, or if the patient simply feels better, believing
their condition will improve. “Studies have shown that improvements
from a patient’s particular baseline can occur after administering
a placebo," says
James Yoon, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician at
St. Jude Heritage Medical Group. "Though that doesn't necessarily mean that a placebo dose is
actually curing the patient, it certainly goes a long way in proving that
the mind can affect how the body feels."
For example, in a recent study, patients with Parkinson’s Disease
were administered two different shots. Both shots were placebos. However,
the study concluded that the patients showed significant improvement in
motor skills following the more expensive shot versus the less expensive
one. This suggests that if patients believe their medication is of higher
cost, it may lead them to believe that it is more powerful than less expensive
options, which in turn appeared to lead to functional improvement. “The
degree to which a patient believes their medication is capable of improving
their condition can in some cases impact how effective their treatment
is,” says Dr. Yoon. Other factors can similarly contribute to the
response elicited by a placebo, including such things as how recently
the treatment was started and how invasive it is.
Research into the placebo effect is not limited to medications aimed at
treating severe illness: studies have also been conducted into whether
a similar response occurs when a placebo is substituted for vitamins and
general health supplements. Even so, since dietary supplements can be
marketed without prior approval from the Food and Drug Administration,
consumers should research the ingredients and the reliability of the brand,
and be wary of exaggerated claims.
“We're starting to really discover the power of the human brain
to affect a patient's condition, which could eventually lead to treatment
plans that minimize medication,” says Dr. Yoon, "but much more
research is necessary."
Whether or not your mind really can make your body healthy, a positive
mindset is undoubtedly a valuable asset to develop in your pursuit of
wellness. It won't heal all your ailments, but positive thinking will
help keep you going as you work to establish a healthier daily routine.
How has positive thinking improved your recovery? Share your comments below.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.