Scientific American Mind – February 25, 2009
Placebo Effect: A Cure in the Mind
Belief is powerful medicine, even if the treatment itself is a sham. New research shows placebos can also benefit patients who do not have faith in them
By Maj-Britt Niemi
A man whom his doctors referred to as “Mr. Wright” was dying from cancer of the lymph nodes. Orange-size tumors had invaded his neck, groin, chest and abdomen, and his doctors had exhausted all available treatments. Nevertheless, Mr. Wright was confident that a new anticancer drug called Krebiozen would cure him, according to a 1957 report by psychologist Bruno Klopfer of the University of California, Los Angeles, entitled “Psychological Variables in Human Cancer.”
Mr. Wright was bedridden and fighting for each breath when he received his first injection. But three days later he was cheerfully ambling around the unit, joking with the nurses. Mr. Wright’s tumors had shrunk by half, and after 10 more days of treatment he was discharged from the hospital. And yet the other patients in the hospital who had received Krebiozen showed no improvement.
Over the next two months, however, Mr. Wright became troubled by press reports questioning the efficacy of Krebiozen and suffered a relapse. His doctors decided to lie to him: an improved, doubly effective version of the drug was due to arrive the next day, they told him. Mr. Wright was ecstatic. The doctors then gave him an injection that contained not one molecule of the drug—and he improved even more than he had the last time. Soon he walked out of the hospital symptom-free. He remained healthy until two months later, when, after reading reports that exposed Krebiozen as worthless, he died within days.
As Mr. Wright’s experience illustrates, a patient’s expectations and beliefs can greatly affect the course of an illness. When psychological factors tied to an inactive substance such as Krebiozen lead to recovery, doctors call the improvement a placebo effect.
In recent decades reports have confirmed the efficacy of such sham treatments in nearly all areas of medicine. Placebos can help not only to alleviate illnesses with an obvious psychological component, such as pain, depression and anxiety, but also to lessen the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and inflammatory disorders. Occasionally, as in Mr. Wright’s case, placebos have shrunk tumors.
The latest research has shown that the placebo effect does not always arise from a conscious belief in a drug. Alternatively, it may grow out of subconscious associations between recovery and the experience of being treated, from the pinch of a shot to a doctor’s white coat. Such subliminal conditioning can control bodily processes, including immune responses and the release of hormones. Meanwhile researchers have decoded some of the biology of placebo responses, demonstrating that they stem from active processes in the brain”.
My comments; (old text below, to be updated soon). When I first (1979) read the above case I – did realizing variations between and within individuals over places and time but at the same time as well as probably most ”believes” behind the placebo effect (not just related to believe a certain pill was effective) was old brain, precognitive, spatial activities not easy to be brought into the ”conscious light” – thought ”can this be no 1 goal for humanistic medicine to step by step approach understanding and thereby transform it into individual adjusted treatment package (toolbox) we may over time increase the biopsychosocial medicine efficacy based on a non-profit paradigm/platform with none or few side effects!
see also www.biopsychosocialmedicine-com placebo … key word – mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Krebozen m.m. http://www.nytimes.com/1998/10/13/science/placebos-prove-so-powerful-even-experts-are-surprised-new-studies-explore-brain.html