When it comes to treatment and medicines, many doctors advise that keeping a positive attitude and believing that it’ll work, goes a long way in determining the outcome of an illness. Many providers prescribe a healthy dose of optimism alongside medicines after a diagnosis. What this demonstrates is that your mind can be a powerful healing tool if given the chance.

Healthcare professionals understand this; in fact, they use the concept of stimulated healing in many areas of treatment. The most commonly used instance is in the case of clinical drug trials which test for new vaccines and medication. Stimulated healing has another term: the placebo effect. The placebo effect is widely known but there is a lot of ambiguity around what it is, and how it works.

TABIIB helps you understand the placebo effect and the role it plays in medical development.

What Is A Placebo?

In medicine, a placebo is a pill or a treatment that only appears to function as the actual treatment. It’s actually a “look-alike” treatment or substance that looks like the real treatment, but doesn’t have any of the active ingredients of it.

Placebos are important in clinical trials as they are given to participants who are part of the focus group. Typically, the participants getting the placebo have no knowledge of it. This means that  don’t know it is that so if researchers detect any significant change, it helps them compare results and formulate better medication.

The placebo effect refers to the impact of the placebo on an individual. Sometimes, even inactive treatment can show measurable responses in an individual. These results can be compared to the results of the people who were given the actual treatment. This helps determine the effectiveness of the drug.

It’s estimated that at least 1 in 3 people experience the placebo effect.

How Does It Work?

The placebo effect varies from individual to individual and the intensity of the effect differs from one disease to the next. The science behind how a placebo influences the body to show physical results is still not fully understood. It is believed that there may be more than the mind-body mechanism at work.

Scientists have posited that there are two main factors that determine the placebo effect:

1)  Expectation and Conditioning
A placebo is more effective if the person believes that they’re taking a legitimate medicine. Part of the power lies in the expectation of the individual. That can mean expectations regarding the doctor, the treatment, or the substance.
For instance, if a person has a headache and they believe that taking a tablet will cure them of it, and if they’re given a tablet – then it’s possible that the person will feel better. This happens because they believe and expect the tablet to cure them. Any individual is conditioned to accept treatment as a definitive cure. A study showed that people who were given placebos as a response to respiratory distress actually felt better; despite the pill having no active ingredients. People are conditioned to believe that medicines and treatments help.

On the other hand, if the individual doesn’t believe the treatment will help, then they may experience negative outcomes. In cases like these, a placebo is referred to as a “nocebo.”

2) Evolved Health Regulation
Many scientists have looked to anthropology and evolution to offer a different perspective on the brain and its role in healing. The body of a mammal has developed helpful physiological responses to pathogens.

A person’s body responds with a fever by raising the internal temperature as a defense against the virus or bacteria they have in their system. The brain knows when to regulate these responses, though. If an individual is in stages of malnutrition and they’re infected, a fever won’t be the symptom since the body can’t afford to expend more energy.

The evolved health regulation theory suggests that a strong belief in the effectiveness of the medication can help relieve symptoms. The brain decides that it doesn’t need to mount the necessary defenses and hence, the result is positive.



While placebos can affect how a person feels, studies suggest that they are only ever helpful in relieving symptoms, not the illness itself. The conclusion drawn from the study was that a placebo works best when used in conjunction with long-term treatment and can actually benefit as part of a therapeutic plan.


It’s important to remember that placebos and self-medication cannot cure anybody of any illness. Medical intervention is always necessary. If you’re sick and unsure of what your symptoms are, consult a doctor on TABIIB.

I am a writer, covering the sprawling expanse of healthcare, among many other things that I love writing on. I write on healthcare because I want to do my part in informing people about the health industry, When I am not blogging about research and medicine, I enjoy reading, playing squash and backpacking around the world.

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