What is a placebo?

Placebo 70.5%
Selective serotonin inhibitors (SSRIs) 78.8%

A placebo is a treatment given by a doctor which not intended to have any direct effect on the function of the body, but nevertheless can bring about improvements in a patient’s symptoms.

When placebos were first described in the 1950s, it was thought that their effect was entirely psychological but a growing body of medical research is showing that placebo treatment can bring about measurable physiological changes within the body.

A placebo treatment might improve your symptoms and by definition can’t cause any harm.

Even more intriguing is the finding by a team from Harvard Medical School in 2010 that placebo treatment can work even if you know you are taking a placebo:

Results from a landmark study at Harvard Medical School: Placebos without Deception: A Randomized Controlled Trial in Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Ted J. Kaptchuk, Irving Kirsch, et al. 2010.

More about the placebo effect

Eric Mead: The Magic of the Placebo

Watch this fascinating TEDTalk discussing the placebo effect.

Dr Michael Mosley: BBC Horizon

Dr Mosley meets a women whose life was transformed by placebo surgery.

How the placebo effect really works

A simple introduction to the placebo effect.

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