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Placebo effect

Sometimes, all it takes to get on the path to wellness is a white lie or a little sugar pill.

health and fitness Updated: Jan 14, 2010 20:10 IST
Aalap Deboor

Healing, they say, has as much to do with the mind as with the body. But just how much power does the mind exercise over the process of healing? Can placebos, which have no medical value but are simply administered to generate a sense of well being in patients, actually accelerate healing?

Yes, says a recent study. The study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine says that placebos could help in managing chronic conditions like psoriasis or asthma, the treatment of which is also influenced by the patient’s mental state. Moreover, they could also help maximise drug benefits, reduce side effects, costs, and limit addiction.

General practitioner Dr PK Bhanushali says that he prescribes placebos to patients to help alleviate general anxiety and fatigue. “B-complex or multivitamin tablets work as good placebos and help give the patient a general sense of well-being. They work well when patients complain of nausea, headaches and vomiting without there being a serious underlying cause to any of those complaints.”

Complementing the cure
Although placebos themselves don’t cure any disease, they also do not interfere with the physiological processes of the patient’s body, and hence play a therapeutic role. In certain cases of depression and hysteria, psychiatrists administer placebos along with a regular dosage of medicines just to calm the nerves of the patient.

“Placebos work according to the suggestibility of the patient’s mind, which is to say how well he’s willing to cope with his condition,” says psychiatrist Dr Prasad Shetty.

Not surprisingly, the success rate of a placebo also depends on the environment in which it is administered. While studies are carried out in tightly controlled environments, the actual efficacy of placebos in real life is also influenced by factors such as dietary habits, lifestyle and psychological factors.

While prescribing placebos for chronic diseases like psoriasis, the doctor has to consider all these extraneous factors.

Ease the suffering
Dermatologist Dr Jolly Kapadia says, “Psoriasis is a multi-factorial disease that can be passed on through genes or be caused due to stress, hormonal imbalances, medicines or changes in food intake. Once the cause has been ascertained, the main treatment begins. And placebos are administered in the event that the person is suffering too much because of stress or a psychological fear or notion.”

Classical homeopath Dr Meghna Rawal Thali believes that placebos provide a mental crutch, when jostling with chronic conditions. “At the end of the day, we all need mental support,” she says. “The placebo provides that to the body and allows it time to heal without further medication.”

-- Study via EurekaAlert

Brain stormer
Weird, whacky and wonderful facts about the human brain:

Nerve impulses to and from the brain travel as fast as 170 miles per hour.
The brain works on the same amount of power as 10-watt light bulb.
The human brain cell can hold 5 times as much information as the Encyclopedia Britannica.
The brain is much more active at night than during the day.
80 per cent of the brain is made of water.
Scientists say the higher your I.Q. the more you dream.