x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The healing imposter

Could a pill with seemingly no scientific benefits hold the key to unlocking the healing power of the human mind?

The human body's ability to heal itself is astounding, in many cases putting modern medicine to shame. But ironically, it may do best when working in concert with that most unlikely of modern "remedies", the placebo pill.

A report published in the medical journal PLoS ONE has concluded that placebo pills have beneficial health effects even when the patients are fully aware that they are taking the proverbial sugar pill. Even a sham drug, it seems, is better than nothing at all.

"Not only did we make it absolutely clear that these pills had no active ingredient and were made from inert substances, but we actually had 'placebo' printed on the bottle," said the study's lead author, Ted Kaptchuk, of Harvard Medical School.

The placebo effect has been notorious in medical circles for years, and it continues to confound critics. In a study at Duke University two years ago, patients judged a $2.50 (Dh9) placebo was better at killing pain than one costing only 10 cents.

Placebo comes from the Latin for "I shall please" and in the 14th century was applied to people hired to weep at funerals. Now it seems the modern version of this imposter really can trick us into feeling better. Could a pill with seemingly no scientific benefits hold the key to unlocking the healing power of the human mind?