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Placebo Effect

Gary Greenberg, What if the Placebo Effect Isn’t a Trick? The New York Times, November 7, 2018

Do They Live up to the Hype?

The Chain of Office of the Dutch city of Leiden is a broad and colorful ceremonial necklace that, draped around the shoulders of Mayor Henri Lenferink, lends a magisterial air to official proceedings in this ancient university town. But whatever gravitas it provided Lenferink as he welcomed a group of researchers to his city, he was quick to undercut it. “I am just a humble historian,” he told the 300 members of the Society for Interdisciplinary Placebo Studies who had gathered in Leiden’s ornate municipal concert hall, “so I don’t know anything about your topic.” He was being a little disingenuous.

 

 

 

Through the WI Lens

New research is zeroing in on a biochemical basis for the placebo effect – the phenomenon whereby suffering people get better from treatments that have no discernible reason to work. With the help of functional magnetic resonance imaging (F.M.R.I.) and other precise surveillance techniques, some scientists are beginning to elucidate an ensemble of biochemical processes that may finally account for how placebos work and why they are more effective for some people, and some disorders, than others.

The list of conditions that respond to placebos as well as they do to drugs with some patients, is long and growing: depression, back pain, chemotherapy-related malaise, migraine, post-traumatic stress disorder… if placebo is really a powerful medical treatment that is ignored by doctors only at their patients’ expense, this might open a Pandora’s box for Western medicine.

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