Monday, July 18, 2011

Placebos Cause Relief Even When Labeled as Placebos

A 2010 study on Irritable Bowel Syndrome found that patients that were given placebos- and told that they were placebos- felt considerable relief of their symptoms. In fact, 59% of placebo takers felt sufficient relief on the placebo- which is comparable to the top IBS drugs on the market. In comparison, 35% of participants told to do nothing felt relief.

Wired wrote an interesting article further exploring the placebo phenomena- pointing out that the effect of placebos are highly variable; one of the reasons the pharmaceutical industry has so much trouble consistently matching or beating their effects. Factors such as location and pill color can affect how well a specific placebo works to "alleviate" a certain condition.

This is a fascinating result! The idea that even when we knowingly take an inert pill we can get noticeable relief speaks volumes about the power of meaningful ingestion. From my experiments, I felt that much of the power of a known placebo was the idea of having a specific actionable thing to do- take your medicine. To do this, it requires that you acknowledge the condition you're trying to alleviate. Furthermore, it gives us a feeling that we have control over that condition- we're no longer helpless victims of how we're feeling, but rather we have a way to fight back. When I took inert "emotion control" pills, I felt like I had some sort of assist in taking control of how I was feeling- even though I knew that there was no active pharmaceutical in the pill.

I'm excited to think more about what this study result means, and what other people would do with it!

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