Placebo may perk up the body’s healing powers

The placebo, which is an inactive treatment commonly called a sugar pill, is a tool usually used in the testing of new drugs. Test subjects receiving the new drug should show a big improvement over those taking the fake.

It’s called the “placebo effect.” It refers to real or imagined improvement people experience taking a placebo or fake drug.

While the effect is most pronounced in cases of pain relief or depression, where some 35 percent of those taking the fake pill feel better, there is evidence that it can do other thing, such as lower cholesterol levels, and decrease asthma attacks by about 10 percent.

Sometimes people believe so strongly in the medicine’s healing power that their expectations trigger the release of body chemicals that help them heal. A strong belief in their doctor’s skill in prescribing medications also has a positive effect.

Doctors at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore say it would be wrong to think that the placebo effect is just imagined. Observable healing is common among placebo takers.

The doctors say it could be possible that psychological factors do initiate true healing in ways they cannot yet fully explain. One thing this could mean to all patients: Believing a medicine will work might actually improve its performance.

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