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Placebos Make People Feel Better

The above headline comes from an Associated Press story reporting on a study published in The Journal of Neuroscience, August 24, 2005 issue. The study shows scientific evidence that placebos actually stimulate brain activity to reduce pain.

A placebo is not a real medication, but rather sugar water that is given to test subjects who believe they are taking medication. In this study funded by the National Institutes of Health and conducted by researchers at Michigan's Molecular and Behavioral Neurosciences Institute, subjects believed that they were receiving pain medication.

This study involved 14 healthy men, ages 20 to 30, who were given a salt water injection that caused pain to their jaw. They were then injected with a placebo and told it was a painkiller. The subjects' brain activity, along with their responses to questions were monitored and evaluated. Although the levels varied, all nine of the subject's brains released more natural painkilling endorphins after the placebos were administered.

The results with the test subjects showed that the brain releases chemicals that relieve pain in patients who believe they're being treated with real painkillers. Previously, many believed that the "placebo effect was only psychological in nature with no real physiological basis." The results of this study challenges that previous belief.

Dr. Jon-Kar Zubieta, associate professor of psychiatry and radiology at the Michigan Medical School stated, "This deals another serious blow to the idea that the placebo effect is a purely psychological, with no physical basis." He concluded, "The mind-body connection is quite clear."