The Placebo Effect

Henry Beecher discovered the placebo effect as a medic in World War II. After running out of pain-killing morphine, he replaced it with a simple saline solution but continued telling the wounded soldiers it was morphine to calm them.

Hm, placebo… This is a tricky one!

I choose not to take panadol/nurofen, bc I do highly believe in The Placebo Effect.

For those that don’t know what The Placebo Effect is, it is a simulated or otherwise medically ineffectual treatment for a disease or other medical condition intended to deceive the recipient. A person given such an ineffectual treatment will often have a perceived or actual improvement in their condition, a phenomenon commonly called the placebo effect or placebo response. Several different elements contribute to the effect, and the methods of placebo administration may be as important as the administration itself.

Is the placebo real? We don’t know.

Much of the research on the placebo effect concerns pain. Scientists found that placebos can cause the brain to release its own pain relief chemicals. In fact, research shows blocking these chemicals prevented placebo effects. In addition, brain areas that process pain show reduced activity following placebo treatment. One study showed that men were more likely to report relief from heat-induced arm pain when they thought a fake anesthetic numbing cream was the real thing. Imaging data revealed that the placebo effect had suppressed incoming pain signals from the arm to the brain.

Other studies showed placebos can affect symptoms of brain diseases. Parkinson’s disease, a neurological condition marked by low levels of the brain chemical dopamine, is often treated with a dopamine drug called levodopa. Research has shown that placebos can increase dopamine levels in the brains of Parkinson’s patients, and help them move more easily — just like levodopa itself.

The brain has control over the body processes affected by placebos.

In conditioning, a neutral stimulus saccharin is paired in a drink with an agent that produces an unconditioned response. For example, that agent might be cyclophosphamide, which causes immunosuppression. After learning this pairing, the taste of saccharin by itself is able to cause immunosuppression, as a new conditioned response via neural top-down control. Such conditioning has been found to affect a diverse variety of not just basic physiological processes in the immune system but ones such as serum iron levels, oxidative DNA damage levels, and insulin secretion. Recent reviews have argued that the placebo effect is due to top-down control by the brain for immunity and pain. Pacheco-López and colleagues have raised the possibility of “neocortical-sympathetic-immune axis providing neuroanatomical substrates that might explain the link between placebo/conditioned and placebo/expectation responses.

A recent fMRI study has shown that a placebo can reduce pain-related neural activity in the spinal cord, indicating that placebo effects can extend beyond the brain.

Dopaminergic pathways have been implicated in the placebo response in pain and depression.



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