The placebo effect, coming from the Latin ‘I shall please’, is a common phenomenon used during experiments. Although it happens very often, there is a mystery on how and why it occurs. A similar effect is the nocebo effect (deriving from the Latin, ‘’I shall harm’’), which is actually the other side of the coin.
In the placebo case, when someone suffers physically or mentally, they don’t get treated through the use of conventional medicine, or through any other methods, but through their powerful beliefs. In the nocebo effect, on the contrary, someone develops an illness with no obvious symptoms, only because he or she has the fear that something bad will happen to them.
The placebo pills are widely used in medical experiments in order to compare the effectiveness of certain medicine on a certain illness.
The experiment is usually as follows: some volunteers take the real medicine, and some others take a fake medicine, that has no active substances, the so called placebo. In those experiments, the volunteers that take the placebo pills haven’t been informed that the pill is not active and that it can’t cure them. The other volunteers receive the actual medicine that is under testing. What is very interesting is that sometimes the placebo pills turn out to be equally effective to the actual pill.
Eventually, it turns out that our brain has a real effect on our body, and this is something that is proved scientifically. It has been confirmed that placebo can change the brain activity in the same way that medicine do.
Professor Ted Kaptchuk, a researcher from Harvard Medical School, intending to study the limits of placebo, divided 80 people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in two teams: the first team didn’t receive any cure, while the other one was assigned to take ‘fake pills’ twice a day.
The doctors explicitly explained to the second team that the pills they would take were inactive, like pills from sugar, which according to scientific studies had improved the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The results of the experiment proved that the fake pills were more effective in the cure of the symptoms than the no-cure.
So, if the fake pill keeps being effective even when patients know that they are inactive, then the placebo effect isn’t just the result of the patient’s hope and belief that a pill is effective, but also the result of the unconscious cohesion between recovery and medical observation. In other words, the ‘medical ritual’ might also be an important factor of the cure.
No matter what is the mechanism that induces the placebo effect, it is obviously a very strong and powerful medicine and an indication that auto-cure is real. Our brain has a great effect on our immunization system. Probably, the thought that we receive an effective therapy and that our situation is reversible, reduces the stress we have for our condition and increases the positive beliefs concerning the cure of our illness.