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Originally published January 5 2009

New Study Shows Genes may be Responsible for Placebo Effect

by Elizabeth Walling

(NaturalNews) Medical research largely depends on the results from studies that show a particular medication provides better results than a placebo. However, there are often conflicting outcomes that show certain study participants receiving equally effective treatment from placebos. A new study at Uppsala University in Sweden sheds some light on an effect which has been a subject of confoundment for decades.

The double-blind study looked at 108 individuals who experienced SAD (social anxiety disorder). Of the participants, 83 received a new serotonin medication and 25 received a placebo pill. In the beginning of the study, patients were asked to write a speech and deliver it in front of a group of people. After eight weeks of receiving medication or placebo pills, participants in the study were asked to again deliver a speech in front of a small group of people.

During both speeches, the brain activity of the patients were monitored to see if the medication affected the amygdala, a part of the brain that determines the degree of fear response. Patients who have been diagnosed with SAD show a particularly high amount of activity in this area of the brain.

The study is ongoing, so the full results have not yet been released, but the results from the placebo group have proved to be very intriguing. Out of the 25 participants who received a placebo, 10 showed reduced amygdala activity and reported feeling less anxiety the second time around. Other placebo patients did not show reduced amygdala activity.

Here's where it gets interesting: 8 out the 10 placebo patients who experienced anxiety relief have a certain variant of the gene tryptophan hydroxylase-2 (TPH2), a gene that affects the use of serotonin in the brain. This variant could explain why certain members of the placebo group experienced the relief of anxiety symptoms.

While these findings stir up quite a bit of interest, how they may affect medical research is still unclear. Tomas Furmark, a psychologist at Uppsala University and the leader of the study, says the temptation to screen study participants for this gene may pose ethical concerns.

Even with this discovery, more information is needed before changes in research methods can be considered. Whether or not these placebo results for SAD patients can be translated to studies of other diseases is key information. There are also questions as to whether or not other genes can have similar impact on the placebo effect.

In any case, this study is regarded as a breakthrough that will pave the way for new analysis on the connection between genes and the placebo effect. It certainly provides an important piece of an answer to a question that has long been pondered.

Zelkowitz, Rachel. (2008) The Placebo Effect: Not All In Your Head. ScienceNow Daily News.

Carlsson, Sophia. (2008) Placebo Effect Decided By Genes. Biotech Scandinavia.

About the author

Elizabeth Walling is a freelance writer specializing in health and family nutrition. She is a strong believer in natural living as a way to improve health and prevent modern disease. She enjoys thinking outside of the box and challenging common myths about health and wellness. You can visit her blog to learn more:

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