Researchers at Northwestern University reported positive benefits of sugar pill placebos to relieving chronic pain in people with a certain brain anatomy and psychological characteristics
Previous studies conducted by various research institutes reported that placebos can affect number of conditions leading to sleep disorders, depression, and pain. Recent Northwestern study showed possibility to predict which patients are suffering from chronic pain will experience relief after taking sugar pill. Also, it was found that such patients will experience the same reduction in pain when they are told the pill they are taking has no physiological effect. The research was published in Nature Communications in September 2018.
Furthermore, there’s no need for subterfuge, as those primed to respond to a placebo will do so even when they know that’s what they’re getting. As a part of study, 60 patients were involved, who were experiencing chronic back pain. The participants were randomly split into two groups. One group was given either a real pain relief drug or a placebo. Other group received neither the drug nor a placebo and served as the control group. Patients that received the placebo and reported a reduction in pain were examined and found to have a similar brain anatomy and psychological traits, such as the right side of their emotional brain being larger than the left and a larger cortical sensory area than those in the placebo group that reported no reduction in pain.
The researchers say the patients that had a response to the placebo were also more emotionally self-aware, sensitive to painful situations, and mindful of their environment. Findings of the study have potential benefits such as doctors can prescribe a placebo to achieve same result rather than addictive pharmacological drugs that may have negative long-term effects. Prescribing sugar pill can significantly reduce healthcare burden.