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Placebo effect

Placebo effect should be embraced as real medicine

Saturday, October 16, 2010 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: placebo effect, medicine, health news

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(NaturalNews) Doctors are increasingly discussing how the placebo effect, long relegated to the realm of scientific research, can be harnessed for actual treatment.

"In the last 10 years we've made tremendous strides in demonstrating the biological veracity of the placebo effect," said Ted Kaptchuk of Harvard Medical School. "The frontier is, how do we utilize what is clearly an important phenomenon in a way that's consistent with patient-practitioner trust, and informed consent?"

Recent research has shown that placebos -- biologically inactive treatments presented as real cures -- can actually produce biological changes that begin the body's healing process. Yet modern medical ethics frown on giving patients any treatment, even a fake one, without full and informed consent.

Some researchers have suggested that doctors could ethically combine placebos with biologically active treatments. For example, a study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found that psoriasis patients who were alternately treated with a pharmaceutical skin cream and a placebo improved just as much as patients given up to four times as much of the real drug. This may occur, in part, because the body learns to associate the cream with healing. If the placebo effect works partly on conditioning, doctors might even be able to tell patients they are receiving a dummy pill.

The honest approach might also work because, some researchers believe, the trappings of medical care are more important than the actual content. They point to a study that compared three groups of irritable bowel syndrome patients -- one treated with sham acupuncture by a brusque caregiver; one treated with sham acupuncture by a friendly, empathic caregiver; and one kept on a waiting list. While only 28 percent of the patients on the waiting list and 44 percent seen by the brusque doctor improved, 62 percent of those seen by the empathic doctor reported "adequate relief."

This rate of improvement is equivalent to that seen with modern pharmaceuticals.

"It's amazing," Kaptchuk said. "Connecting with the patient, rapport, empathy ... that few extra minutes is not just icing on the cake."

Sources for this story include: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/arti....

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