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KittyWampus Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Nov-07-07 01:17 PM
Original message
The Placebo Effect- Some Scientists Study Placebo Effect/Our Minds Do Effect Our Bodies
Edited on Wed Nov-07-07 01:23 PM by cryingshame
October 13, 1998
Placebos Prove So Powerful Even Experts Are Surprised; New Studies Explore the Brain's Triumph Over Reality


But now scientists, as they learn that the placebo effect is even more powerful than anyone had been able to demonstrate, are also beginning to discover the biological mechanisms that cause it to achieve results that border on the miraculous. Using new techniques of brain imagery, they are uncovering a host of biological mechanisms that can turn a thought, belief or desire into an agent of change in cells, tissues and organs. They are learning that much of human perception is based not on information flowing into the brain from the outside world but what the brain, based on previous experience, expects to happen next.


A recent review of placebo-controlled studies of modern antidepressant drugs found that placebos and genuine drugs worked about as well. ''If you expect to get better, you will,'' said Dr. Irving Kirsch, a psychiatrist at the University of Connecticut who carried out the review. His findings were met with a great deal of skepticism.

*a recent study of a baldness remedy found that 86 percent of men taking it either maintained or showed an increase in the amount of hair on their heads. But so did 42 percent of the men taking a placebo.
*On Coche Island in Venezuela, asthmatic children were given a sniff of vanilla along with a squirt of medicine from a bronchodilator twice a day. Later, the vanilla odor alone increased their lung function, 33 percent as much as did the bronchodilator alone.
*at Tulane University, Dr. Eileen Palace is using a placebo to restore sexual arousal in women who say they are nonorgasmic. The women are hooked up to a biofeedback machine that they are told measures their vaginal blood flow, an index of arousal. Then they are shown sexual stimuli that would arouse most women. But the experimenter plays a trick on the women by sending, within 30 seconds, a false feedback signal that their vaginal blood flow has increased. Almost immediately they then become genuinely aroused.
*Placebos are about 55 percent to 60 percent as effective as most active medications like aspirin and codeine for controlling pain, Dr. Kirsch said. Moreover, placebos that relieve pain can be blocked with a drug, naloxone, that also blocks morphine.
*in Japan on 13 people who were extremely allergic to poison ivy. Each was rubbed on one arm with a harmless leaf but were told it was poison ivy and touched on the other arm with poison ivy and told it was harmless. All 13 broke out in rash where the harmless leaf contacted their skin. Only two reacted to the poison leaves.


Explanations of why placebos work can be found in a new field of cognitive neuropsychology called expectancy theory -- what the brain believes about the immediate future.

Like classical conditioning theory (Pavlov's dogs salivate at the sound of the bell), expectancy involves associative learning. The medical treatments you get during your life are conditioning trials, Dr. Kirsch said. The doctor's white coat, nurse's voice, smell of disinfectant or needle prick have acquired meaning through previous learning, producing an expectation of relief from symptoms. Each pill, capsule or injection is paired with active ingredients, and later, if you get a pill without active ingredients, you can still get a therapeutic effect, he said.

Such conditioning shows how expectations are acquired, Dr. Kirsch said. But it does not explain the strength and persistence of placebo effects. These responses occur almost instantly, with no apparent conscious thought, and are therefore wired firmly into the brain, he said.

Response expectations are strong because the world is filled with ambiguity. A long thin object seen in dim light could be a stick or a snake. But it may not be safe to take the time to find out. So people evolved a mechanism to anticipate what is going to occur. This expectation speeds the perceptual processing at the expense of accuracy.

As in the outside world, people's internal states have inherent ambiguity. That is why, when people in an experiment were given a drug that produced a surge of adrenaline, they interpreted the feeling as anger, euphoria or nothing at all, depending on what they had been told to expect.


Support for the expectancy theory emerged about 10 years ago, when many scientists realized how closely the brain, the immune system and the hormone production of the endocrine system are linked. Chronic stress sets into motion a cascade of biological events involving scores of chemicals in the body -- serotonin, cortisol, cytokines, interleukins, tumor necrosis factor and so on.

Such stress lowers resistance to disease and alters gene expression. When people are under stress, wounds tend to heal more slowly, latent viruses like herpes erupt and brain cells involved in memory formation die off. The precise molecular steps underlying all of these changes have been mapped out.

But what about the opposite? Can a thought or belief produce a chemical cascade that leads to healing and wellness? Researchers studying placebos think the answer is yes, and they offer several ways it might work:

*A placebo might reduce stress, allowing the body to regain some natural, optimum level called health.

*Special molecules may exist that help carry out placebo responses. For example, a recent study found that stressed animals can produce a valium-like substance in their brains, but only if they have some control over the source of the stress. People almost certainly have similar brain chemistry.

*Placebos may draw their power from the way the brain is organized to act on what experience predicts will happen next.

Dr. Marcel Kinsbourne, a neuroscientist at the New School for Social Research in New York, explains it this way: The brain generates two kinds of activation patterns, which arise from networks of neurons firing together. One type is set in motion by information flowing into the brain from the outside world -- smells, tastes, visual images, sounds. At the same time, the cortex draws on memories and feelings to generate patterns of brain activity related to what is expected to happen.

The top-down patterns generated by the cortex intersect smoothly with the bottom-up patterns to inform us about what is happening, Dr. Kinsbourne said. If there is a mismatch, the brain tries to sort it out, without necessarily designating one set of patterns as more authoritative than another.

The expectations that result are internally generated brain states that can be as real as anything resulting purely from the outside world. For example, recent experiments with monkeys show that if they expect a reward like a sip of apple juice, cells in their brains fire 20 to 30 seconds before they actually receive it. In other words, expectancies are embedded in the brain's neurochemistry.

''We are misled by dualism or the idea that mind and body are separate,'' said Dr. Howard Fields, a neuroscientist at the University of California at San Francisco who studies placebo effects. A thought is a set of neurons firing which, through complex brain wiring, can activate emotional centers, pain pathways, memories, the autonomic nervous system and other parts of the nervous system involved in producing physical sensations, he said.

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gateley Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Nov-07-07 01:24 PM
Response to Original message
1. I've always been a firm believer in the power of our minds since I saw a special
on Stigmata. After all the scientific and religious investigation, it was determined that Stigmata was just a result of the person's mind. I remember thinking -- JUST a result of the person's mind??? If our mind can make blood drip from precise locations on our bodies, if our mind can make a cross of blood appear on our foreheads, shouldn't we be studying that awesome power of the mind?

If we were to understand and utilize that power, we could apply it to SO MANY areas of our lives.

Thank you so much for posting this article - it's fascinating.

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BrklynLib at work Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Nov-07-07 01:28 PM
Response to Original message
2. Bill Moyers had a series several years ago about the Mind/Body Connection
Edited on Wed Nov-07-07 01:33 PM by BrklynLib at work

The body can very much be controlled by the mind.....Some people are better at it than others.

An example of this would be any type of "hysterical" blindness
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JFN1 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Nov-07-07 01:29 PM
Response to Original message
3. I'm one of those duelists
I believe our bodies are like vehicles for our minds. Just like a car, we can do maintenance ourselves on it without having to go to a mechanic. The power of the mind over the body remains a 'mystery' to us, mostly due to pre-conceived ideas about our bodies, and our minds. We fail to achieve a true partnership with our bodies because we are taught that our bodies lie beyond our control to maintain, other than superficialities, or with outside aids like pharmaceuticals.

When I was 14, a friend and I played a rather mean trick on a fellow friend. We put vinegar in kool-aid, and told him it was vodka. The kid got 'drunk' off of half a glass. He was convinced he wqas drunk, until we showed him what he was drinking. He sure was mad, but it proves the point, methinks.
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Pithlet Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Nov-07-07 02:37 PM
Response to Reply #3
6. He thought he was drunk. But he wasn't actually drunk.
I bet as soon as he realized it wasn't real vodka, he no longer felt drunk. He'd probably even realize that he never really felt all that drunk to begin with. It still holds true that if you want to actually be physically drunk, you have to drink alcohol.
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Trillo Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Nov-07-07 03:11 PM
Response to Reply #6
7. I've read about people who are pulled over
because the cop presumed they'd been drinking, but had a zero alcohol test. One news item I read years ago rationalized that some viruses make people act drunk.

Yet, that doesn't meet the legal requirement of 'alcohol induced' behavior. I've always wondered what would happen if someone's colon was impacted, they had an overabundance of yeast, and they ate some carbohydrates. I'm presuming they'd die if their colon wasn't cleared.
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Trillo Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Nov-07-07 02:30 PM
Response to Original message
4. I'm always fascinated by the concentration on positive aspects of the placebo
Edited on Wed Nov-07-07 02:31 PM by SimpleTrend
effect. It seems to me that the skeptics who dis this seem to understand the negative aspects of placebo well. Doesn't the authoritarian who creates submission understand the value of negative expectation? Doesn't the educator who makes an example of one student, or a small group of students, by expelling them, understand the negative placebo created in the minds of the remaining students?

What expectation, one wonders, is created in the minds of the expelled?

Oh, right, we're not supposed to go there, that's "dark thinking". Be positive. Be happy. {insert ironic smilely jingo here}
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Warpy Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Nov-07-07 02:35 PM
Response to Original message
5. I saw the process a lot when I was a nurse
and I'd need to give several IV push meds in series, one of which was IV morphine. I'd tell the patient I'd do the morphine first, and the patient would begin to relax immediately. It didn't matter what order I actually pushed the drugs (and many needed to be given in specific order), the expectation was there and so was the effect. Sometimes I'd see the effect before I even began to push a drug in.

The problem with this is that it doesn't work on everybody, a phenomenon I also observed. There was no way to predict who was susceptible and who was not. People who were susceptible one day were not the next, although this was rarer.

The body/mind connection is a very real one, but one we are only in the infancy of understanding. We don't as yet know how to harness or control it, nor even predict it.

However, it's keeping untold thousands of quacks in their BMWs.
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DemExpat Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Nov-07-07 06:49 PM
Response to Reply #5
10. Helping someone find the placebo healing effect
is well worth payment, IMO. :evilgrin:

We can't predict or control it because the individual person being treated responds to it, or not - it doesn't depend (solely) on the doctor or practitioner providing treatment.

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Crunchy Frog Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Nov-07-07 06:36 PM
Response to Original message
8. You should repost this in the health forum.
Fascinating issue, and it doesn't hang around long enough in GD.
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HiFructosePronSyrup Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Nov-07-07 06:41 PM
Response to Original message
9. Do placebos really make anything better?
Or does the patient just think their better?

Or does the patient not feel any different at all, and so tells the doctor he's feeling better just to spare his feelings?
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gateley Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Nov-07-07 07:24 PM
Response to Original message
11. In re-reading this I notice the article is 10 years old. I wonder how much
more we've learned since then.
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