Source: Maryville Online
We know about how placebos are tests for patients to know they’re not actually sick, but there is more to placebos than most people know. The beginning of placebo goes way back to the 13th century. According to Merriam-Webster, “placebo” was first used in the Roman Catholic Church referring to prayers for the dead or recited lines for a Psalm. Later in the 18th century, the medical use of a placebo began as “an inert medicament or preparation given for its psychological effect especially to satisfy the patient or to act as a control in an experimental series” (“Origin of Placebos,” n.d.). Since placebos have been invented, the medical world has benefitted greatly from them.
Placebos Experiments Reveal Empathy
A study from 2017 to 2019 in the journal Nature Human Nature found that patients can notice subtle facial cues from doctors thinking about whether a treatment will work. According to NPR, the study demonstrates a placebo effect from doctor to patient. Researchers randomly assigned student actors to play in a made-up scenario of patients and doctors. The “doctors” were told there was real (called “Thermedol”) and placebo medication to administer to “patients” who wanted a pain reliever (Vaughn, 2019).
Source: Nature Human Behavior
A computer analyzed the intensity of facial expressions of the study subjects and found that the doctor group showed less pain expression to patients whom they thought they gave actual medicine (Vaughn, 2019). At the same time, the patients showed less pained facial expressions as well and reported the doctors to be more empathetic (Vaughn, 2019).
Source: Nature Human Behavior
The purpose of this exercise was to see if a patient can tell if a doctor is giving him or her a placebo, but this is also an important experiment to show how humans can empathize and feel for each other.
Placebos Working Like Real Medicine
Doctors believe placebos will help the patient, and they do. Placebos help with terrible mental illnesses such as depression in youth. A study done at the University of Basel in Switzerland and Harvard Medical School conducted a meta-analysis of over 6,500 subjects revealing that even though anti-depressants work better than placebos, the difference is minor and varies to the type of mental disorder. Mental disorders commonly among children and adolescents are anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsion, and post-traumatic stress (“New Study on Placebo,” 2017). It was found from the study of 36 drug trials from 6,778 children and teenagers up to age 18 that antidepressants were better than placebos, but they have more side effects from mild symptoms of headaches to more severe suicidal behavior (“New Study on Placebo,” 2017). Even though antidepressants work better overall, the study shows placebos can have positive effects on those seeking treatment. This is a major insight into mental disorders among the youth.
Placebos in the United States
Placebos in America have a big impact while real-life drug treatments fail. According to Scientific American, over the past ten years, more than 90 percent of potential drugs for treating neuropathic and cancer pain failed at phases of clinical trials. It was found placebos and painkillers tap into similar biological mechanisms such as the release of endorphins in the brain (Marchant, 2015). When people believe the drug is going to work, their body changes physically because the mind and body are connected. This inspired drug companies to not compare other products to attract customers, and medical professionals to find non-pharmacological ways to treat patients. This research reveals that drugs are not as useful, and people can save time and money in finding alternative solutions for their mental and physical problems.
Placebo Healing Effect Explained and Drug Companies
Placebos have the power to heal people in ways that cannot be scientifically explained. According to Michigan Medicine, “the placebo effect is caused by positive expectations, the provider-patient relationship, and the rituals around receiving medical care.” Diseases such as depression, pain, fatigue, allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, and osteoarthritis of the knee respond well to placebos (Patterson and Schroder, 2022) The United States Food and Drug Administration requires all new medicines to be tested with placebos to show they can work, but the shocking discovery is that many drugs don’t provide more relief than placebo treatments and also increase activity in the brain (Patterson and Schroder, 2022) So, placebos are problems for drug companies that have the incentive for making a lucrative profit. Placebos as a non-toxic remedy have a giant impact on the world whether it is helping patients heal naturally or forcing drug companies to change.
Here is a video about the power of the placebo.
Placebos are a catalyst for people who need them and an ethical block for drug companies. Placebos can make people heal internally and externally through their minds and their bodies. This makes us as people take a look back and understand that many of our ailments can be cured as long as we change the way we think. Placebos without any chemical or hormonal manipulation have saved so many lives. Placebos scientifically do nothing but can fix everything at the same time!
Chen, Pin-Hao A., et al. “Socially Transmitted Placebo Effects.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 21 Oct. 2019, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-019-0749-5.
Marchant, Jo. “Placebo Effect Grows in the U.S., Thwarting Development of Painkillers.”
Scientific American, Scientific American, 7 Oct. 2015, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/placebo-effect-grows-in-u-s-thwarting-development-of-painkillers/.
“New Study on the Placebo Effect and Antidepressants in Children and Adolescents.” Universität Basel, University of Basel, 15 Sept. 2017, https://www.unibas.ch/en/News-Events/News/Uni-Research/New-Study-on-the-Placebo-Effect-and-Antidepressants-in-Children-and-Adolescents.html.
“Origin of ‘Placebo’ and ‘Placebo Effect’.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/placebo-word-origin#:~:text=The%20first%20use%20of%20placebo,antiphon%2C%20Psalms%20114%3A9.
Patterson, Elissa H., and Hans Schroder. “In Research Studies and in Real Life, Placebos
Have a Powerful Healing Effect on the Body and Mind: Psychiatry: Michigan Medicine.” Psychiatry, The Conversation, 14 Feb. 2022, https://medicine.umich.edu/dept/psychiatry/news/archive/202202/research-studies-real-life-placebos-have-powerful-healing-effect-body-mind.
Vaughn, Emily. “The Placebo Effect Works and You Can Catch It from Your Doctor.”
NPR, NPR, 21 Oct. 2019, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-