Team McCallum

R&D for Lifetime of Life

Make mine a placebo!

In double-blind trials, placebos have been found to be linked to improvements in a number of conditions, particularly those where the patient self-reports severity of the illness, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), anxiety, depression and chronic pain.

A recent US national survey of internists and rheumatologists found that 50% were routinely prescribing medication they thought produced no specific effect other than that patients believed they worked – a form of placebo.

Dr Ted J Kaptchuk and team ran a study in IBS using people who were told in advance that they would be randomly assigned to get either a placebo or no medicine at all, and they would know which group they were in from the start.  The team wanted to find out what would happen to the placebo effect if people knew what they were getting was just a placebo.

80 patients were recruited via adverts for “a novel mind-body management study of IBS”. During enrollment, they were told that they would get “placebo pills made of an inert substance, like sugar pills, that have been shown in clinical studies to produce significant improvement in IBS symptoms through mind-body self-healing processes” or no-treatment.

The study ran for 21 days. Before being randomly assigned into the two groups, everyone was told exactly the same four points. 1. The placebo effect is powerful. 2. The body can respond automatically to placebo’s, just like the trained association of Pavlov’s dogs. 3. A positive attitude helps but is not necessary. 4. Taking the pills faithfully is critical.

Start statistics on symptoms were then taken, and at this point the patient (and physician) found out whether treatment was to be no intervention or the placebo.

Check on symptoms were carried out at 11 days and 21 days, using standard clinical questionnaires.

It was found that the placebo effect worked, even though the patients knew they were on a placebo. In fact, as 59% reported significant improvement, the effect was larger than normally found for placebos, which is typically in the 30 to 40% range. And 59%  makes this placebo result comparable to the response rate for current best-treatment medicines for IBS – alosetron and tegaserod.


December 28, 2010 - Posted by | IBD, Placebo, Psychology, Success

1 Comment »

  1. Another placebo effect: A study published in JAMA reported that SSRI antidepressants are no better than placebo for most cases of depression. The authors reviewed 30 years of data and concluded that “the benefit of antidepressant medication compared with placebo may be minimal or nonexistent in patients with mild or moderate symptoms”.

    ref JAMA 2010;303(1):47-53) for more:

    jeffrey dach md

    Comment by jeffrey dach md | December 28, 2010 | Reply

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