So you heard of a placebo in movies and everytime you read an article on some test group in medical trials.

But what is it? And how does it affect us?

The placebo effect or the placebo response is a strange phenomenon, where a fake treatment (as in an inactive substance like a sugar solution or saline) is administered to a patient, and a positive outcome is achieved.

The patient taking the placebo expects that the administration of the treatment will have a positive benefit and that alone has shown positive results. Positive thinking alone has shown many benefits and has been studied on numerous occasions. One of which is a pioneering paper published in 1955 on “The Powerful Placebo” by the anesthesiologist Henry K. Beecher. Beecher concluded in his paper that across the 26 studies he had analyzed, an average of 32% of patients responded positively to a placebo.

Placebos have shown measurable physiological effects on the human body. From increased pulse rates to increase blood pressure, and even improve reaction speeds.

Think of a child who has had a minor fall. The act of a parent putting a band add on the child and kissing the wounded area alone is able to put the child at ease. That is part of the human potential to react positively to a healer. There is no medical reason that the act alone should make a child feel better. But it does.

It’s psychological.

From a young age, we have been condition to believe that doctors are of authority when it comes to medical advice and that the administration of medication has a positive effect. And because someone you perceive of as an authority such as a doctor, administration of a treatment alone is enough for some to believe in the outcome to be positive. This is the power of positive thinking.

One study conducted on Parkinson’s disease patients gave patients drugs to combat pain and relieve the systems of Parkinson’s. After a period these patients were switched to a placebo. The patients didn’t realize the switch and were still responding as though they were on real medication because they were in the belief that the drugs administered were the same.

It was found that individual neurons in the brains of patients with Parkinson’s disease responded to placebos as though they were actual anti-Parkinson’s drugs due to the mental conditioning that had taken place. They believed that the drugs worked and they were still on the same drugs.

The placebo effect is used in medical trials to separate out the power of positive thinking from a drug’s medical benefits. Does the drug fare significantly better than those on a placebo? If it does, then the study supports the conclusion that the new medication is effective.

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