Placebo: Healing Power of Simulated Treatment
Finding out what is a placebo about, it is necessary to address the Latin. This term originates from “dead” Latin language like many other medical terms do. “Placere” is the word that means “to like or value something”. It implies the fact that the drug itself actually does not have any medicinal properties, but is perceived by the patient as a medicine, which has a therapeutic effect.
Human body may react in such a way that does not have anything to do with attributable effects of the drug on the patient. This is called the placebo effect. This phenomenon is observed during comparison of state of health of the patients treated with medicine and members of the control group, which does not take any medication.
Placebo can have the following positive impact on human health:
- It can relieve anxiety and improve quality of sleep;
- It can relieve depression;
- It can improve functioning of cardiovascular system;
- It can relieve coughing attacks, sneezing as well as normalize functioning of bronchial tubes;
- It can relieve migraines;
- It can relieve pains and swellings including those of the joints;
- It can improve patient’s state in presence of chronic allergic reactions;
- It can lower weight and normalize appetite.
There are also negative effects placebo may have on human body, and they are called the nocebo responses. They usually are reflected in a form of side effects which should come after use of real drug.
How Does the Placebo Effect Works?
Those people, who are interested in this medical approach, should not only be aware of the placebo effect itself, but also must know when it occurs. Experienced reactions are related to subconscious reactions evoked in a patient as well as his tendency to succumb to the influence of placebo, and attitude towards certain physician.
It was found that the placebo best affects extroverts, that is, the individuals whose emotions and reactions are directed outwards. Introverts are very reserved people, who focus on their feelings. Self-esteem plays an important role in this process. Placebo effect is stronger in patient that has a lower self-esteem.
Kind of problem the one is trying to solve is also very important. Placebo is the most effective in case of mild psychosomatic disorders such as depression and sleep disorders.
Statistical data regarding placebo have also revealed some peculiarities. For example, geographic localization of the effect matters. Placebo effect differs in various regions and its impact varies considerably. Some doctors blame it on cultural differences and a tendency to succumb to placebo’s exposure. Researchers attempt to link the placebo effect and the rigidity of social structures, which involve suppression and strict hierarchy.
Placebo are also administered in certain forms and this fact matters, as well. People have certain opinion regarding the way medicines should look like. They mostly think of it in the following way:
- Drugs should have certain taste, and, most likely, they should taste bitter.
- Pills can be large and small in their size. If they are large, then medicine is administered in a greater dose while if drugs are small, then they should be the most efficient ones.
- Patients also assume that strong drugs should have side effects. Patients think that side effects may imply nausea, dizziness and changes in blood pressure.
- Drugs should be used on a regular basis. The more restrictions, the better. Thus, pills should be taken at certain time of day, before or after food, and they may not go well with certain foods.
- Increase of dosage also matters to patients.
- Placebo effect is increased if patient is told that drug is made from «natural substances» or «processed with a magnetic field» or even is of a «foreign origin».
Finding out what the placebo effect is about, a certain relationship has been established between the strength of an effect itself and the color of medicines used. Thus, patients with rheumatic fever were given the placebo pills to achieve an analgesic effect. Red pills gave the best result while blue, green and yellow pills evoked a worse reaction.
A similar experiment was conducted with patients suffering from anxiety disorders, and a different result was achieved. Those people, who took green-colored drugs felt the best while patients, who were administered red- and blue-colored drugs, felt the worst. As for the patients with depression, hierarchy of color preferences was the next: yellow, green, red.
Origin of Placebo Effect
has been known by the doctors for a long period of time. Practice of its use has been already described in the 19th century (it is possible that the earlier attempt of placebo administration took a place, but they were not recorded). But the term itself has been introduced only in 1955 by Henry Beecher. This physician from the United States has found out that one-third of his patients has recovered after receiving the “dummy” pill.
The first experiments with placebo were conducted by Beecher during the World War II. Hospital, where he underwent a military service, was lacking analgesics. So, he had no choice, but to conduct surgeries injecting the patients with the saline solution, which he was passing off as a morphine.
Experiments have been done and they indicate that the impact of homeopathic preparations is entirely based on the placebo effect. Authors suggest that psychological factor and reputation of homeopathy as well as amount of attention a doctor spares to a patient play the important role in healing process.
Studies concerning the placebo effect have increased during the last decades. Most often, conclusions are made based on statistical data obtained in a course of research. And the research work is carried out in several directions. For example, James Frazer’s work called “The Golden Bough” and Harry Wright’s work called a “Witness to Witchcraft” are typical examples of the placebo effect which takes place in primitive societies of Oceania.
The applicability issue regarding the placebo effect and clarification of what a placebo is about are complicated by the fact that there is no a coherent theory of the origin of psychosomatic diseases. Doctors think that a stress plays a negative role in this matter. It is believed that stressful state is deposited in a long-term memory and can have a negative impact for a long time. If these allegations are true, then the mechanism of the placebo effect will be able to provide a better clarification regarding this matter.