Modern medicine offers so many unusual and innovative treatment methods that it is easy to get confused. While the titled experts argue about what exactly and how the medicine helps, patients can only look perplexedly at this and trust the doctors who give the “magic” pills.
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What is a placebo?
A placebo is a substance that does not have obvious medicinal properties, used to simulate a drug in treatment, where a positive effect can be obtained by instilling the patient himself in the efficacy of the drug, or to improve the patient’s well-being in cases where there is no more effective drug. Sometimes a placebo (in the form of a tablet or capsule) is called a dummy.
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When did the placebo appear?
It turns out that doctors learned about the benefits of auto-suggestion for the human body back in the Middle Ages. Even the term “placebo effect” did not appear in modern laboratories and clinics, but in the songs of mourners at the funeral. The French philosopher Michel de Montaigne wrote back in the 16th century that for some people, the very attention of doctors to them already has an effect. Doctors described this effect as early as the 18th century. In 1811, a placebo was very accurately called “any medicine selected to satisfy the patient, and not for his benefit.” Doctors noticed that such “treatment” sometimes gave results. Placebo was used until the 20th century as a necessary lie – it became easier for the patient to realize that he was being treated with something.
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The Placebo Effect: Why Does It Work?
People traditionally underestimate the possibilities of their mind. The placebo effect is not just positive thinking and belief in all the best. The brain is really able to help the body recover, for hundreds of years this is not news for doctors. And sometimes the effect of a placebo may be even stronger than that of traditional medicines. The main thing here is faith in the effectiveness of the proposed procedure or treatment. This forms a strong bond between the brain and body.
The effect is especially good on brain-generated symptoms, such as pain. Scientists have found that a placebo works best with stress-related insomnia, pain after chemotherapy, and is associated with fatigue and nausea.
Despite numerous publications about the essence of the placebo effect, his work is still incomprehensible. Obviously, complex neurobiological mechanisms are involved: the level of neurotransmitters (endorphins and dopamines) responsible for well-being rises, certain brain regions associated with mood, emotions and self-awareness are activated. All together, this can have a therapeutic effect.
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For a long time, the placebo effect was considered an unsuccessful experiment. But today he found a place in official medicine. The effect helps test the efficacy of new drugs in clinical trials. In one group, people are given tested medicine, and in another group of people are given “dummies.” Only doctors know the distribution. Comparing the reaction of people and their well-being after taking the remedy, you can evaluate its effectiveness. If both groups react equally to the new drug or no improvement occurs, then this indicates a low effectiveness of the drug.
In Russia, placebo is widely used in the treatment of addiction to alcohol and drugs. There are numerous remedies that are precisely based on the suggestion to the patient that alcohol or drugs can cause death after taking the medicine. A sense of fear, fueled by the signing of legal documents, keeps you from taking harmful substances.
A placebo in itself is unlikely to work; the accompanying ritual is important to shape the effect. It makes no sense at home to convince yourself that an ordinary vitamin supplement will suddenly help with a chronic disease. It is necessary to get an appointment with a doctor, undergo examination, strange procedures, be surrounded by people in white coats who know exactly what they are doing. These factors will have a serious perception of both the symptoms of the disease and a sense of confidence in the specialists. A placebo is triggered if people do not know that they are being treated with “dummies,” but believe in the effectiveness of the medication given to them.
In 2014, a study was conducted whose results were published in the journal Science Translation Medicine. Scientists have studied the effect of pain medications for migraines. One group was given the real medicine, the second – empty tablets labeled “placebo,” and the third nothing at all. It turned out that in the second group, even knowing about taking a placebo, the effectiveness of the drug was 50% higher than that of the real drug. The ritual of taking the pill turned out to be important. Even the understanding that she is a dummy does not interfere with brain stimulation in the awareness of improved well-being.
Earlier studies showed that the placebo effect is observed only in relation to pain and phobias, and patients can subjectively interpret the results of their treatment, while the therapeutic effect was not observed. It is difficult to purposefully use this effect due to its unreliability and unpredictability. In addition, sometimes negative feelings may arise, which the patient subconsciously associates with the medicine prescribed to him. And the abuse of trust and the appointment of a placebo can ultimately undermine a person’s confidence in medicine.
Placebo cannot be unambiguously called a beneficial or harmful phenomenon. It has already found a place in clinical research, and really helps people in some cases. If it is possible to essentially relieve pain in a psychological way without resorting to complex chemistry – what’s wrong with that?