Enhancing the Placebo

The ever clear and entertaining Ms. Judson gives us a explanation of the “placebo effect” and encourages us to learn to utilize it.

Opinionator Blog – NYTimes.com

The placebo effect is, potentially, one of the most powerful forces in medicine. The challenge is to harness that power in a reliable and systematic way.

First, what is the placebo effect?

It’s the improvement in health that some patients experience because of the feeling that they are receiving medical care. A classic example comes from drug trials. Suppose patients are randomly divided into three groups: those who get no treatment, those who get the drug that’s being tested, and those who get the placebo treatment — typically a pill that looks and tastes like the drug, but doesn’t contain it, or any other active ingredient.

The idea is that the “no treatment” group shows how many people would have gotten better by themselves; the “placebo” group shows any effect of participating in medical rituals (like taking pills); the “drug” group shows any effect of the drug over and above the effect of medical rituals. Simple.

Or not. Different studies of the placebo effect report wildly different results. One survey of 117 trials of two ulcer drugs found that, depending on the trial, patients in the placebo group had anywhere from zero to a 100 percent recovery rate…

more via Enhancing the Placebo – Opinionator Blog – NYTimes.com.

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