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February 11, 2018 – Long after cancer treatment ends, many patients continue to deal with one particular symptom that refuses to go away: fatigue. In a new study, researchers have found that the power of placebos, even when fully disclosed to patients, might be harnessed to reduce fatigue in cancer survivors.
For cancer survivors, few treatments are available to alleviate fatigue after treatment, and the most effective pharmacological interventions come with side-effect warnings that include panic, psychosis and heart failure. In a study published in Nature Scientific Reports on February 09, 2018, investigators found that cancer survivors who knowingly took placebo pills reported a 29 percent, clinically meaningful, improvement in fatigue severity, and a 39 percent improvement in the extent to which fatigue disrupts quality of life.
In the study, the placebo pills were made of cellulose, so there was, pharmacologically speaking, no “active ingredient“. Upon enrollment, researchers told participants the pills are simply placebo, or inert pills, and each participant had a clear understanding of the placebo effect up-front. Investigators found that patients’ opinions of the placebo effect did not matter in the outcome of the study.
According to Dr. Hoenemeyer, the lead author of the study, did some people who thought the placebo wouldn’t do anything have a good response, and others who believed it would help didn’t have a response. It appears that “fooling” or “deceiving” patients may be unnecessary for placebo effects to occur and produce clinical benefits phenotypically, with automatic neurological processes being a possible mechanism for the effects. This may have revolutionary implications for how the power of placebo may increasingly be exploited in clinical practice in the future.
Thasso Post had in the past articles on placebo entitled *Outsmarting the placebo effect” (here), “Pain: Placebo’s sweet hot spot in the brain identified” (here), and most recently “Placebomics: Where placebo and genetics meet” (here). In all these articles the biological and even genetic basis for the placebo effect was addressed and the emerging evidence was in line with the findings in the present study: Placebo effect is real and is helpful in certain patients to alleviate distressing clinical conditions, such as fatigue and pain, and possibly many others, establishing itself as a veritable treatment option.
Research from the placebomics field even indicates that certain patients have genetic backgrounds and presdispositions for being carriers of the placebo effect. Fascinating, simply fascinating.