A placebo is any medicine given to a patient that would benefit the patient psychologically rather than have an effect on their ailment. Placebo means ‘I will please’ as the it affects the patients psychologically, the life of the patient is improved but the ailment is not cured.

How does this effect patients?

A genuine treatment is swapped with a harmless substitute and it still ‘cures’ patients. Patients with pain or depression respond quite well to the placebo effect.

The placebo effect is often seen in a bad light but it played a vital role in the early study of medicine. The patients were given a host of therapy such as a doctor recommending a patient to consume more water and vitamin enriched foods. This does not cure the ailment but the patient seems to overcome the ailment much quicker than a patient that did not receive the placebo. The more powerful the psychological response, the more the placebo will be.

There is not enough evidence to prove that the placebo effect improves a patient’s health. It’s quite difficult to differentiate if the placebo improved the health of the patient ( such as reducing pain) or if the patient reports what the researcher wants them to report.

“For people who are depressed, and especially for those who do not receive enough benefit from medication of for whom the side effects of antidepressants are troubling, the fact that placebos can duplicate much of the effects of antidepressants should be taken as good news. It means that there are other ways of alleviating depression. As we have seen, treatments like psychotherapy and physical exercise are at least as effective as antidepressant drugs and more effective than placebos. In particular, CBT has been shown to lower the risk of relapsing into depression for years after treatment has ended, making it particularly cost-effective.” 

Irving Kirsch

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