Some Scientists Say Placebo Effect Proves To Be Physical
In a "new spin on the so-called placebo effect," studies now show that when patients "expect" a benefit from medicine, it can have the same neurological effects as a real medication, and in some cases release chemicals from the brain that act as natural painkillers, the AP/Wall Street Journal reports.
For example, a recent study indicates that once a person with Alzheimer's disease can no longer expect a medication to help them, the treatment "doesn't work nearly as well," the AP/Journal reports.
In another study, University of Michigan researchers injected salt water into the jaws of healthy men to create painful pressure and then measured their brain's reactions when the men were told they were receiving a painkiller. The men felt better, despite receiving a placebo.
Dr. Fabrizio Benedetti of Italy's University of Torino Medical School said, "There is not a single placebo effect, but many placebo effects" that differ by illness.
Columbia University neuroscientist Tor Wager added, "Your expectations can have profound impacts on your brain and your health."
Although placebos cannot be a substitute for real medicines, doctors consider how to "capitalize on the placebo effect," according to Dr. Helen Mayberg of Emory University, whose own research suggests that some antidepressants have a "placebo-plus" activity in the brain (AP/Wall Street Journal, 11/29).