The placebo effect: Where our health and beliefs meet

By definition, placebo is an inert and inactive substance, given as a fake treatment for some patients and known to have a real positive effect on their health. Those substances do not have any medical effects and include sterile water and sugar pills.

The placebo effect is the phenomenon of experiencing benefits and positive outcomes from the administration of a fake substance. Using this procedure will help determine whether or not the actual treatment has an effect.

In fact, the placebo effect can be related to various aspects of our lives.

Defining the placebo effect relies on leading several experiments. In a psychology experiment, they took a placebo control group exposed to the fake substance and an experimental group taking the real treatment. A comparison will lead to the conclusion of the effectiveness of the drug itself or the placebo. The placebo control group participants showed changes in blood pressure, anxiety levels, and even brain activity.

To explain the placebo effect on the brain activity, it is important to note that the placebo triggers a release of endorphins that act as natural painkillers. With brain scans (PET scan), researchers were able to see that an area of the brain was activated in both the placebo control group and the experimental group, meaning that in some cases, the placebo could have a similar effect to the real medication.

The placebo effect can also be explained from a behavioral point of view. In this case, what contributes to the placebo effect are motivation, suggestions and expectations. When a patient has motivation and expects the treatment to work, the placebo effect is more probable.

We can talk here about conditioning the patient. It’s about associating placebo with a real treatment until the desired effect is reached. Telling patients about the efficiency of their treatment has a positive way of encouraging them and helping them to believe in the power of the treatment, ultimately causing a noticeable amelioration, known as the placebo effect.

However, some people might experience a negative outcome after a placebo. That is called the “nocebo effect.” Patients cited dizziness and nausea, among other symptoms, following the placebo. But research found that the nocebo effect is a quality inherent in the patient, not the substance.

The placebo effect might be beneficial for patients in the beginning of the treatment, as a motivational start that leads to an amelioration based solely on the patient’s state of mind.