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Delving Into the Mystery of Placebos
Date:7/13/2011

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, July 13 (HealthDay News) -- A new study finds that the power of the placebo effect left asthma patients thinking that real and fake drugs were doing the same level of good, even though the real medication actually had a much greater physical effect on their lungs.

The effect was so strong that it convinced patients they were breathing much better even if they hadn't taken a real drug and hadn't actually improved much, as measured by a breathing test.

"The placebo doesn't change the actual breathing in asthma patients. But it changes people's experience of what's going on as much as a real drug does," said study co-author Dr. Ted J. Kaptchuk, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Kaptchuk has noted that the ritual of treatment itself is very powerful, and that in the study "it was apparent that the placebos were as effective as the active drug in making people feel better."

As researchers have long known, you can give a sugar or dummy pill to someone and they often will feel better. Placebos don't cure diseases such as cancer. But they can offer relief from pain, ease gastrointestinal disorders and lower a patient's blood pressure, even though they don't have any active ingredient other than whatever a patient chooses to believe.

The new study aims to find out how the effect of a real drug compares to a fake drug in two areas: the actual effect (in this case, on a patient's ability to breathe) and the perceived effect.

The researchers studied 39 asthma patients who were randomly assigned to be treated with an albuterol asthma inhaler (a common treatment), a placebo inhaler and a sham (fake) acupuncture treatment (in which acupuncture needles are used but the clinician does not stimulate any known acupuncture points ). They also underwent sessions of being treated with nothing at all.

The patients were randomly exposed
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