• Question: Wy does the placebo effect work?

    Asked by jarsden1994 to Suzi on 24 Jun 2011.
    • Photo: Suzi Gage

      Suzi Gage answered on 24 Jun 2011:

      Hi @jarsden1994
      Ooh I think I was spelling your name wrong in the live chat – sorry about that, trying to type and think at the same time is hard!!!

      There is still quite a bit of debate as to what actually causes the placebo effect. If anyone is reading this who isn’t aware of the placebo effect – it’s when a patient is given sugar pills, or some other ineffectual treatment, and yet still starts to feel better.

      One possible explanation is expectation – the patient so expects a treatment to work that their brain believes they will feel better, so they do. However, there is some question as to whether this is correct as even if a doctor says ‘this is a sugar pill, there is no evidence it will have any effect on you but I would like you to take it anyway’, people still get the placebo effect!!!

      Some other people think the brain releases endorphines which act as pain killers, but it is likely to be more complex than this.

      Other people believe that it works because often when you’re ill you DO just get better naturally, so it’s a coincidence, if you leave a disease untreated there are times when you do start to feel better. However, the placebo effect can be made stronger by giving an injection rather than a tablet (perhaps because it seems like more of an intervention), so this seems unlikely.

      So I’m sorry I don’t have a definitive answer for you, but these are some of the current theories, to give you something to think about?

      What’s your opinion of the placebo effect?