How the placebo effect works: What the science says
The fact that the mind-body connection is sometimes stronger than some might think illustrates the seemingly haunting effect of so-called placebos on our body’s healing and restoration processes. Placebos, i.e. ineffective drugs or ineffective therapies without active ingredients or modes of action, have the potential to alleviate certain symptoms associated with a disease. A classic example is homeopathy, in which small inactive sugar balls are administered to relieve pain, calm or resolve other physical and psychological problems.
As unscientific as fake drugs and treatments may sound, placebos are part and parcel of science. For example, placebos appear in all serious trials for the approval of new drugs. In studies, participants are usually divided into at least two groups. One group will receive an approved drug with a real active ingredient, the so-called control group, only an inactive placebo. In this way, scientists can verify whether treatment successes can be traced back to the active substance or whether they have other, as yet undiscovered, causes.
And how does it work?
Placebos rely on the positive expectations of the affected and thus solve the connection between body and mind. Because the way we think about a treatment, drug or medical procedure, what we expect from it and how it can affect certain areas of our body can have a direct effect on the desired outcome. The placebo effect acts as a psychosocial effect. This means that we also expect positive effects from things that we have observed to be effective and helpful in other people. Air conditioning also plays a role. If certain things have helped in the past, they or similar things will help in the future.
For example, it helps tremendously to dry big crocodile tears and soothe pain when mom or dad gently blows on a child’s scraped knees, or when doctors in the hospital explain to us exactly how and in what form the upcoming procedure will improve our symptoms. The placebo effect works miraculously, but it is only a targeted activation of our positive expectations.
3 facts about placebo that are really surprising
Injectable placebos work better than those in pill form
It seems that our positive expectations are actually modeled by the form in which we are given a placebo. Studies have already found that placebos given by syringe can be more effective than placebos in pill form. Background: Study participants expected a greater effect from the injections. In addition, there is direct stimulation through the puncture, you can observe how the liquid with the placebo in the syringe – usually table salt – penetrates into the vein.
Placebos work even when you know they are
It seems that the “magic” of the placebo effect does not depend on the ignorance of the sufferers. In a 2014 study, researchers divided migraine sufferers into three groups. The first group was given pills with real active ingredients. These pills were labeled with the name of the drug. The other group received a placebo. These pills were actually labeled as “placebo”. The third group received no medication at all. It turns out that the placebo from the second group was still 50 percent as effective as the drug from the first group.
Also interesting: These medicines belong in the first aid kit >>
Placebos also work in animals
The result of this research surprised even us. Placebos also seem to work in animals. In 2010, a research team investigated the effectiveness of an anti-epileptic drug for dogs. The drug with the active ingredient alleviated seizures in 86 percent of the dogs. However, the placebo in the control group also improved seizures in 79 percent of the animals. It is unlikely that the furry furry friends optimized their own expectations for the positive effects of the administered drug and thereby made the placebo effective. However, the researchers hypothesize that the placebo had a much more subconscious effect on the pet owners. They probably took even more loving care of their sick animals during the clinical trial. That extra bit of care can sometimes be enough to make our disheveled furry friends feel a little better.