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Placebo effect works for the kind, straightforward

  • Published Monday, Nov. 19, 2012, at 11:41 p.m.

Don’t be fooled by some of the jargon of biomedical research: People who respond strongly to placebo medications are not dummies. A new study finds they tend to be people you would describe as straightforward, tough in the face of difficulty, and willing to lend others a hand.

People who don’t respond well to placebos seem far less capable of harnessing their minds to the task of healing their bodies and can be angry, hostile and prone to negativity, says the new research.

In clinical trials, a placebo is a “dummy” therapy, a sham version of the real thing. It helps give researchers a basis for comparison. If an experimental drug or treatment works far better than the placebo, its effect is presumed to be “real.” The “placebo effect” was long dismissed as an improvement that is “all in your head”: imagined, ephemeral, the response of the gullibly hopeful.

The thing is that the placebo effect is often very real, a powerful testament to the mind’s influence over physical pain, infection and disease. The belief that a treatment will work can help mobilize the immune system, blunt pain and promote healing.

For doctors, knowing who is most, and least, responsive to the placebo effect can be a useful clue to which patients are primed to heal and which may need more aggressive therapy. And for researchers trying to disentangle a treatment’s direct effects from those supplied by the study participant, it would be helpful to know which subjects would probably respond irrespective of whether they get the real thing or the sham.

Now, both have their answer, published this month in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

– Los Angeles Times

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