Placebo

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What Causes the Placebo Effect?

What's the Latest Development?

Harvard medical researcher Ted Kaptchuk is finding that how placebos are administered plays a very important role in their ability to cause physiological changes in the body. A trained acupuncturist, Kaptchuck has tested the treatment's ability to work as a placebo by offering his patients qualitatively different treatments. In other words, patients who receive more care and "schmaltz" from their medical professional tend to receive the greatest benefit from sham treatments. Kaptchuk wonders to what extend, if at all, Western medicine can take advantage of the placebo effect to improve treatment. 

What's the Big Idea?

For decades, the medical establishment has treated all placebo effects equally but Kaptchuk's studies show the importance of how fake treatments are administered. What has become most clear is that, despite the emphasis Western medicine places on material and chemical changes, medicine is a ritualistic event. Beyond the science of pharmaceuticals is the science of care, a role which encompasses how pills affect our physiology. Critics argue that were placebos to be encouraged in the practice of medicine, patients could delay other treatments with longer-lasting benefits.

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

Read it at Harvard Magazine

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