Placebo Effect Works— Even if You Know Pill Is Fake
But a positive doctor-patient relationship thought to be essential
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 23, 2010 8:02 AM CST
In this Jan. 25, 2006 file photo, a production technician at Eli Lilly and Company, examines Cymbalta 60mg pills in Indianapolis.   (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

(Newser) – Turns out the placebo effect can work—even if the patient knows the pills he’s taking are fake. Researchers gave 40 people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome pills and explained they were like sugar pills—the bottle even had the word “placebo” on it—that patients had to take twice a day. Another 40 people were given nothing. The group knowingly taking a placebo reported much greater improvement in symptoms, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Fifty-nine percent of those taking the placebo reported relief of symptoms compared to 35% of those not receiving treatment. Researchers hope this could pave the way for placebos to be used, ethically, to treat ailments like chronic pain and depression. “The conventional wisdom is you need to make a patient think they're taking a drug; you have to use deception and lies,” says the lead researcher, adding that in order for the placebo effect to work, there must be “a positive doctor-patient relationship.” Click to see how many US doctors prescribe placebos.