Thursday, July 19, 2007

Sham: The Power of the Placebo

Scientists have long asked why some people experience a “placebo effect” that makes them feel better even when they receive a sham treatment they believe to be real--while other people don’t respond at all to the same thing, or even feel worse?

A new study from the University of Michigan Health System may help explain why. These Michigan researchers have found that the extent to which a person responds to a placebo treatment is closely linked to how active a certain area of their brain becomes when they’re anticipating something beneficial.

Specifically, the research finds strong links between an individual’s response to a placebo “painkiller”, and the activity of the neurotransmitter known as dopamine in the area of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens. That’s a small region at the center of the brain that’s involved in our ability to experience pleasure and reward, and even to become addicted to the “high” caused by illicit drugs.

The new research, published in the July 19 issue of the journal Neuron, builds on research previously published by the same team in 2005. That study was the first to show that just thinking a placebo “medicine” will relieve pain is enough to prompt the brain to release its own natural painkillers, called endorphins, and that this corresponds with a reduction in how much pain a person feels.

Sadly, there are a number of products sold both in the pharmaceutical category as well as the dietary supplement category which I believe rely on the "placebo effect" for patient results.


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