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Originally published April 14 2010

Placebo treatments much stronger than previously thought

by Ethan A. Huff, staff writer

(NaturalNews) A recent study published in the British medical journal, Lancet, has found that placebo, or fake, medical treatments exhibit a noticeable biological effect on patients. A panel of international researchers pored through a series of studies they believe illustrate concrete evidence that physical changes in patients occur in response to placebos.

One of the studies included in the research involved Parkinson's disease patients whose brains released dopamine in response to placebo treatment. The dopamine release triggered a series of other changes throughout the brain, resulting in improved health for these patients.

"When you think you're going to get a drug that helps, your brain reacts as if it's getting relief," explained Walter Brown, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Brown and Tufts University, in an interview. Brown believes that people with mild depression or anxiety are perfect candidates for placebo treatments because such patients benefit just as well from fake treatments as they do from drug treatments.

Others were quick to note their belief that the inert substances in placebos do not actually cause a change, but rather the belief that they are causing a change is what is helping. These same experts admit that they do not fully understand how the process works to actually trigger an effect in the brain, but that somehow it does.

As placebos gain popularity, many in the medical profession are trying to figure out how to effectively use them. Part of the theory behind how a placebo works is that the patient does not know he is receiving a placebo. If doctors were to administer placebos instead of drugs, would it be unethical not to disclose this fact? These are some of the questions experts are trying to answer.

According to Brown, disclosing to patients that they are receiving a placebo, but also telling them that it could be very effective, could be a viable method of prescribing the treatment without being deceptive.

Doctors should be careful to verify the contents of placebos if they decide to use them, since many would argue that no ingredient is truly inert. Many standard placebos are made by pharmaceutical companies who do not disclose the contents of the pills. Some of them could contain trace amounts of drugs or other substances that may become problematic.

With so many natural remedies available, there is no reason to administer placebo's except as a last resort treatment option.

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