Why Do Placebos Work?

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The placebo effect is a powerful phenomenon that can have a major influence on your body. The human mind is capable of incredible things, and can sometimes help your body heal from trauma. A placebo takes place when your mind believes that a treatment has a real therapeutic effect. 

This strange occurrence has been widely used in numerous medical studies, as it allows researchers to determine the effects of new drugs or treatments might have on a particular condition. For example, some people in a study might be given a new drug to help lower blood pressure, while others would be given a completely inert substance, or placebo, to best determine the effectiveness of the new drug. 

The strange part is that sometimes participants in a study who have been given a placebo actually experience improvements in the conditions being tested. This is most evident when it comes to reducing pain, with approximately 30-60 % of patients reporting diminished levels of discomfort after taking a placebo pill. 

While placebos are technically supposed to have no effect, they sometimes cause a positive or negative impact. Research into the causes of the placebo effect has been conducted, but scientists have yet to determine a definite understanding of the occurrence. However, there are a number of different factors that are thought to contribute to this phenomenon. 

One possible explanation is that the placebo effect has a direct effect on triggering hormonal responses. Upon taking a placebo pill, it could trigger a release of endorphins. These hormones are essentially the brain’s natural painkillers, and a rush of them could have a dramatic effect on any pain or negative health issues a person may be experiencing. 

Another possible explanation could include placebos having a direct effect on conditioning and expectation. When a person exudes strong expectations towards believing a treatment will work, that motivation can actually exhibit influence on the treatment itself. The idea behind hearing “stay positive” when undergoing treatment is actually rooted in scientific fact, and scientists think the placebo may work in a similar way. 

Entering treatment with a positive mentality can have incredible outcomes when it comes to the placebo effect, but the power of suggestion has an evil twin. The nocebo effect is the antithesis of the placebo and can be the underlying cause of experiencing negative outcomes from a treatment. For example, if you expect a treatment to be harmful, the nocebo effect can cause your body to actually experience the negative effects you were expecting in the first place. This goes to show the power of expectation play a surprisingly powerful role on both sides of the spectrum. 

There is still much to uncover when it comes to the mysterious placebo effect, including the exact nature of the phenomenon and who will respond to it. Still, we may reach a time where the powers of the placebo effect can be harnessed to improve the lives of people for the better. 

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