Placebo Studies Point to Importance of Faith in Health Care


Irving Kirsch, associate director of the Program in Placebo Studies at Harvard, rocked the medical world a few weeks ago when he declared on CBS’ “60 Minutes” that in most cases antidepressants are no more effective than placebos – those pharmacologically inert “dummy pills” given to patients who think they’re getting the real McCoy.

This is not to say that people who take these drugs aren’t getting better.  They are.  But according to Dr. Kirsch, “it’s not the chemical ingredients of the drug that are making them better” but an expectation of healing so powerful that it alleviates all but the most severe symptoms of depression.

This phenomenon extends beyond just pills to include other medical procedures as well.

In one study, 180 patients with osteoarthritis were randomly assigned to receive arthroscopic débridement, arthroscopic lavage, or placebo surgery.  The placebo group simply had their knees opened and were then sewn right back up.  As it turns out, those who received the legit surgery were no better than those who got the placebo.  Similar results were found in a study dealing with “sham” acupuncture, published in January by the Canadian Medical Association.

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