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Placebos, Nocebos, and the Symptoms of Healing

Placebos, Nocebos,  and the Symptoms of Healing

The placebo effect is one of the most misunderstood, misrepresented, misused and maligned effects of health and medical products.

Placebo is an interesting word, the definition of which helps to create a false image of the placebo effect.  Placebo, according to Webster, is "a usually pharmacologically inert preparation prescribed more for the mental relief of the patient than for its actual effect on a disorder". Written as if placebos do not provide physical relief.  But they do.

Many doctors prescribe 'placebos' because they recognize that mental relief is an important aspect of physical relief.  Even if they don't understand the details.  These doctors are not 'deceiving', they are acting in the best interests of the patient. They often prescribe 'patent medicines' that, in theory, will have no effect on the condition, rather than an alternative medicine - because paying more, and going to a pharmacy, increases the placebo effect.

Some doctors recognize that drugs with an actual effect - not specifically related to the patients (untreatable by medicine) condition have a stronger placebo effect.  In those cases, the most effective placebo is not an inert pill, but one that the patient can 'feel working'.

The Placebo Effect has three parts

1. The basic placebo effect, in theory, increases your response to a treatment.  It doesn't matter if the treatment is a patent medicine, an alternative medicine, a surgery, or a prayer - all benefit from the placebo effect.

2. The nocebo effect (a reverse placebo effect) can increase your awareness of, or the presence of side effects of a treatment.

3. Regression to the mean is a natural physical process that moves statistical outliers, e.g. people who are outside the normal range of healthiness, back into the normal range. It works equally well with golf tournaments, coin tosses, protest movements, and health conditions.

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