The Benefit of Placebos

The benefits of placebos are positive. At one time doctors gave them to patients who were thought to be malingering, when the sugar pills helped, then the doctor was sure of it. Now placebos have proved to be as effective as standard treatment. There is only one explanation. The brain is able to trigger the healing of the body.



Placebos were first given to patients who were thought to be malingering. When they seemed to improve on sugar pills, the doctor was then sure of it. Well, medical doctors hold a different view now. In some studies placebos deliver as much relief to decidedly ill patients as does standard medical treatment. It has only one explanation. The brain is able to think the body out of pain and illness.

The power of thought has been known since 1978, when scientists began studying placebo effects positively. Now the brain process has been mapped that underlies the action. When people expect pain to diminish, because a doctor tells them a pill or another type of treatment will do it, the expectation produces activity on the prefrontal cortex. That is the site of all our higher brain function. “From there other regions are activated to release the brain’s own opoids.” says Fabrizio Benedetti of the University of Turin Medical School, a pioneer in placebo research.

Scientists have learned that it is not just a placebo but in the plural, with different mechanisms, each showing how high level mental functions control the actions of the lower level brain processes. For instance injecting an inert solution has relieved the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. The doctor giving the patient an expectation of good results seems to change the activity of neurons in specific brain areas. It doesn’t work on everyone, just as standard treatments doesn’t work on everyone.

Strangely, placebo effects also occur through pathways that have nothing to do with expectations. Instead they work because the brain has learned that a certain experience brings about a certain response. In one study after patients received several doses of morphine for pain, placebos were then given and produced the same result as the morphine. The brain had learned that morphine relieved pain and produced slow shallow breathing. and responded accordingly even to the placebo.

“The result is completely unconscious.” says Benedetti. When he and colleagues gave volunteers a cortisol lowering drug twice, then a placebo, the placebo acted effectively regardless of what the patient expected. So what it seems to boil down to is our brain is more powerful than we have previously thought. If we can learn how to nudge the prefrontal cortex in the right direction we might be able to heal ourselves someday without benefit of surgery or medication.’t-mix/

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  1. The mind is really powerful to cure us or remove pain, but sometimes we need the help of a placebo. Great post Ruby Happy New Year :)

  2. I believe you are right. Good article about the power of positive thinking. If sugar pills can relieve psycosomatic pain they might be able to ease real pain. After all, pain is pain.

  3. wow thats really nice to know about. happy new year

  4. A good analysis of placebo, quite informative.

  5. Good information, thanks. Happy new year!

  6. Thank you for all the information. This is certainly a beautiful dog.


  7. We rediscover what the Tibetans and others have known for centuries?

  8. December has been crappy, I could use a sugar pill right now!

    Thanks for sharing.

  9. Mind over matter. Now if we could just conciously harness it.

  10. Fascinating Ruby. I agree I think they can give some people the hope they need.

  11. I’ll have a sugar rush over anything else anytime.;)

  12. This is a very well written and informative article. I liked how you quoted from Dr. Benedetti. It gave the article a very professional feel. It gave you and the article credibility.

  13. Well written…nice post….

  14. Your right on target with this article. Now have a safe and Happy New Year. Friend, fan, smile

  15. Good article. I believe in the power of positive thinking and I think that this validates that belief.

  16. Nicely put. Thanks for your great insight here. Happy New Year 2010!

  17. Amazing the powers we have locked away in our brains

  18. nice…i learned sumthin new^^

  19. Thanks for sharing this information, Ruby.

  20. This is very interesting, when my children were little I ‘cured’ every sort of ache or pain with ‘magic’ tablets. They were just kids vitamin tablets but the children felt better because I told them they would.

  21. I too am a great believer in the positive,it can move mountains.

  22. I can definitely see how this works,state of mind has a lot of bearing on general health

  23. Before reading this I didn’t even know what a placebo was. Now I feel very informed.

  24. thank u very much for this and ur reading advice

    rgds and happier 2010 to all those who read u extensively too.

    my target is to complete 2000 poems by 15 jan 2010 hopefully

  25. I believe there is a lot of power in positive thinking, but one aspect of placebos that I don’t like is the cost. Can you imagine having to pay full price for a medication and then finding out it is only a sugar pill? I suppose in one way it is cheap because it cured the patient, but to pay say $100. for a pill that is not what you thought.

  26. One of the truly amazing research findings is how sugar pills or placebos can somehow “trick” us into feeling or getting better. For example, because many of us believe that we will be helped by taking pills, about one-third of the population report feeling much better or having less pain after taking a pill, not knowing that it was only a sugar pill-placebo.

    Thanks for sharing, Ruby.

  27. no doubt placebos are still in effect. very good article.

  28. Very interesting information..

  29. Very nice and helpful information.

  30. Very nice and helpful information..

  31. I wonder what the ethics of knowingly giving a person knowing that it wont actually help them unless they think it will?

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