Placebos — or dummy pills — work better when patients think they are expensive, a new study finds. (Los Angeles Times)
University High School

Opinion: Dangers of the placebo effect

Even though it sounds crazy, we can relieve our health complaints by receiving zero medical treatment nor legitimate pills, drugs.

A placebo is a fake pill that is basically made out of sugar or cellulose and has no easing effect on an individual.

The placebo treatment, however, comes from an experiment conducted in 1955 by a pioneering American anesthesiologist Henry K. Beecher according to an article from Harvard Magazine. In his experiment, Beecher observed how people achieve pain relief when they take a placebo without being unaware of its uselessness. He named this absurd phenomenon as the “Placebo Effect,” which is still being used in psychological and medical research.

But yes, we can physically and mentally benefit from nothing.

Here’s how:

If we anticipate a positive outcome enough, it will come true. This might sound cliché but it is actually accurate to an extent. Our brains are easy to fool sometimes: the expectation of pain relief is enough to cause it to release pain-killing endorphins.

That’s why the Placebo Effect can also be attributed as “the effect of an inert substance” by researchers and experts, according to an article published by Encyclopaedia Britannica.

But wait there’s more to it.

When being treated by a doctor or a therapist, we usually experience abundant positive emotions and feelings due to the bond that occurs between us and the doctor/therapist. Whether we are aware or not, there’s empathy, trust, care, attention, thoughtfulness, sugar, spice and everything nice going on that we’re enjoying.

By these positive feelings, we become prone to trust this professional in front of us and anticipate an outcome that’s in our best interest. Subsequently, our brains reflect this anticipation and trust by releasing those dear pain-killing endorphins, which ultimately relieve us from the pain.

“The feeling of trust, a bond potentiates good medicines and makes them better; it is a critical part of all health care,” Ted Kaptchuck, a Professor at Harvard Med School, said in his interview with the National Institutes of Health.

Whoa whoa, wait for a second.

Does that mean I can shrink a tumor or lower my cholesterol levels by telling all my secrets to my doctor and fully heartedly believing that I will survive?

Well, I wish…

There’s currently no evidence that a placebo can deal with serious medical conditions.

The deal of the placebo effect is all about changing how we perceive ourselves, our complaints, our relationships with the complaints. Therefore, it deals with very common disorders that usually accompany serious illnesses such as fatigue, nausea, depression, anxiety.

Moreover, Beecher claimed that in 15 trials with different diseases, 35% of his 1082 patients were satisfactorily relieved by a placebo alone, according to The National Center for Biotechnology Information.

To that end, I recommend you to not fully depend on this phenomenon in serious health complaints but use it to uplift the effects of the treatment that you’re already going through. Yet, if you’re really not seeing any benefit from it, what harm can a strong emotional connection with your doctor make?

To sum it up, you can trick your brain into suppressing the mental or physical pain by altering your relationship with your complaint and anticipating that it’ll be alright.