Why do placebos work?

By Sharon Frey

Sharon is Manager of Media relations for Christian Science in Boston, MA. She is passionate about health and expanding thought.

Some scientists are digging into a fascinating question – why do sugar pills have an effect?

In a blog network that highlights diverse perspectives on science and medicine, Steve Silberman wrote an interesting piece called Meet the Ethical Placebo: A Story that Heals.  He discusses a study showing that some patients who take sugar pills, even when they are told they are taking sugar pills, get better.

Some of these scientists have decided that this effect should be studied, instead of just being thought of as a “statistical distraction,” as many pharmaceutical companies may have considered them.

So, back to the original question: why do placebos work? Silberman says, “The precise nature of the placebo effect is shaped largely by patients’ expectations.”

To me, it sounds like the mental nature of health is now being observed in these clinical trials. This is intriguing, and I’m interested to see that these scientists are drilling deeper into what’s behind cause and effect with placebos. Another finding is that the level of support and confidence a health care provider has with the patient and his or her situation has an effect on healing.

Why would a supportive environment matter if there wasn’t a mental nature to health? It wouldn’t. And why would patients’ expectations matter either? I’m looking forward to seeing what these scientists find next.


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3 Responses to Why do placebos work?

  1. Cam Wilson says:

    Christian Science DOES work!!

  2. Jason says:

    “Why would a supportive environment matter if there wasn’t a mental nature to health? It wouldn’t.”

    Medical science has over the last 30 years explored the interaction between the brain and the immune system and the production of hormones such as dopamine.
    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Placebo#Mechanism_of_the_effect).
    Rather than being a comformation of Christian Science it is an explanation of how Christian Science works.

    Remember, pumping blood is what the heart does, gas exchange is what the lungs do, the mind is what the brain does.

  3. Anna Bowness says:

    Thanks for your comments and perspective Jason. I have experienced many healings through prayer, and am very grateful for every perspective that I have gained through my study of the spiritual nature of man.

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