Prescribing Placebos

Mind over body

Prescribing Placebos - Mind over body

Many doctors believe that telling a patient about a placebo would negate its effects. Ted Kaptchuk of Harvard Medical School in Boston however, has recently published a paper that might prove otherwise. Kaptchuk and a team of researchers recruited 80 people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) who experience symptoms such as chronic abdominal pain, discomfort, and irregular bowel movements. Each patient was told they would receive a placebo or no pills at all, and were also told what were in the placebos (no active ingredients). By using a questionnaire in which patients were asked to rate the IBS Global Improvement on a scale of 1 to 7, three weeks later the team found that those on the placebo scored significantly better with an average of 5.0, compared to those in the control group who scored around a 3.9. According to Kaptchuk, this is a “huge” difference, analogous to the improvement seen in many real drug trails for IBS. “We’re learning that it isn’t useful to draw such rigid distinctions between mind and body,” says James Bodfish of the University of North Carolina, “what we think of as physical disorders can be helped with psychological treatments and vice versa.” Kaptchuk says his team isn’t advocating the widespread use of placebos quite yet, though patients may be more open to the idea than previously believed.

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