Saturday, October 25, 2008

Placebo Power

Henry Beecher would have been pleased with these findings. He pioneered the concept of the placebo effect. A surgeon in World War 2, he found that simply giving wounded soldiers a sugar pill alleviated their pain. Fascinated by this after World War 2 he began research into the Placebo Effect.

Sadly the Placebo Effect is often perceived as a statistical artefact rather than a real phenomenon. However it can be very powerful. Even classical conditioning has been shown to induce altered immune responses in humans and rats. In fact in humans one can induce immunosuppression through behavioral conditioning. Now before you start thinking something spooky is going on here, you should read this article which indicates that there is a physical basis for this phenomenon.

There needs to be greater attention to the potential of the Placebo Effect in clinical practice. As this news item indicates, many doctors are not adverse to using the Placebo Effect in their daily practice.

For an introduction to the work of Henry Beecher, read this Wikipedia entry.

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