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Placebo Effect Caught In the Act In Spinal Nerves 167

SerpensV passes along the news that German scientists have found direct evidence that the spinal cord is involved in the placebo effect (whose diminishing over time we discussed a bit earlier). "The researchers who made the discovery scanned the spinal cords of volunteers while applying painful heat to one arm. Then they rubbed a cream onto the arm and told the volunteers that it contained a painkiller, but in fact it had no active ingredient. Even so, the cream made spinal-cord neural activity linked to pain vanish. 'This type of mechanism has been envisioned for over 40 years for placebo analgesia,' says Donald Price, a neuroscientist at the University of Florida in Gainesville, who was not involved in the new study. 'This study provides the most direct test of this mechanism to date.'"
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Placebo Effect Caught In the Act In Spinal Nerves

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  • by foobsr ( 693224 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @09:11AM (#29976848) Homepage Journal
    Would be interesting to see if similar effects could be observed regards acupuncture which is rated to be in the realm of placebo by 'old school' medicine.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @09:18AM (#29976910)

    I have chronic headache and have been a subject in studies. It is well-known that anticipation is an observable component to pain notification and response. To an almost hilarious extent, pain is like gravity in cartoons: if you don't believe it exists, you're less likely to experience it.

    captcha: scratchy (they fight...)

  • Your mind (Score:3, Insightful)

    by s-whs ( 959229 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @09:42AM (#29977162)

    > Even so, the cream made spinal-cord neural activity linked to pain vanish.

    The cream did no such thing, the people's minds did this. It's quite unsurprising that as the brain processes pain (which is just information about damage to tissue), that the brain can also switch it (the processing, i.e. feeling) off.

    I can do this whenever I want. First time I did this when I was 12 or so, and for the umpteenth time the lid of the kettle to boil water for tea fell off, and I burnt my hand. Painful and annoying. I said to myself: Enough, no more pain! And gone it was. Not really anything special I believe, see e.g. fakirs.

    Of course the 'placebo effect' is more than just turning off pain, it's also about getting better without medicine, i.e. making your body do things to repair itself. This I also do consciously (i.e. I tell myself that my immune system should work harder to kill the 'intruders' :)) and may be the reason why I'm almost never ill, and when I am, I recover very quickly (I never go to a doctor).

    Reminds me of a Married with children episode btw.:
        [ Al ] I feel strong!
            { Peggy says something }
        [ Al ] I feel weak...


  • by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @09:57AM (#29977354) Homepage

    Hardly mind over matter, simply a bio-chemical organ that can be induced to produce a range of neurotransmitters and hormones based upon psychological states. Don't be fooled though, whilst reactions might be controllable and the negative impact that stress and tension has upon recovery can be alleviated when a supportive environment is provided, it will not change the nature of the ailment itself. So a placebo is not really a placebo but a psychological treatment to assure the patient and alleviate stress and tension, which allows natural healing processes to function more effectively.

    Note dependent upon the background of the patient this can also include religious support as long as the belief is there and of course the illness falls within scope of natural healing processes which would otherwise be circumscribed by fear and stress. No mind over matter, no miracle cures although of course genetic diversity and probability allows for luck to cure the most lethal of ailments, you know one in a million don't bet on it though as you far more likely to end up in the 999,999 group.

  • The Point? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by LKM ( 227954 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @09:59AM (#29977394) Homepage

    I don't quite understand your point. We already know that acupuncture works. We also know why it works: it works 100% through the placebo effect. This newly discovered mechanism may or may not apply to acupuncture, but it doesn't really matter; we already know that acupuncture has no specific activity for the condition that is being treated. This new discovery does not change this simple fact, and thus does not require us to re-analize acupuncture.

    The results would be exactly the same as earlier tests.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @10:03AM (#29977448)

    The problem is when someone mistakes treating symptoms for treating causes. If you feel better, but you're still dying, then you're still dying.

  • by TwistedGreen ( 80055 ) <twistedgreen@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @10:06AM (#29977492)
    Yes, that's the point. The study is showing physiological effects of patient expectation. Patient expectation is based on past experience, cultural beliefs, and whatever the doctor (or any other person in authority, for that matter) tells you, even if the treatment is just an inert cream or a sugar pill. This study is just confirmation that when a patient claims to feel less pain, there is actual nervous system activity to support this perception.
  • by radtea ( 464814 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @10:56AM (#29978180)

    The perception of pain, and indeed all neurological processes, are not incorporeal and can be shown to have actual physical mechanisms.

    Three hundred and fifty years after Willis et al showed that the brain was the physical seat of perception, it is incredible that the mythology of "mind over matter" is even coherent to anyone anymore: mind is matter. Why anyone believes otherwise is a mystery.

    Yet we still see people in response to this article saying "the placebo effect isn't an effect", as if the physiological response that results in an altered state of belief isn't real because they believe for some reason that psychological states aren't real. The placebo effect is a perfectly ordinary physiological effect, as all psychological effects are. That we can access our physiology via words, ideas and beliefs is no great suprise, since those words, ideas as beliefs are generated by our physiology as well.

    I guess maybe most people are simply too dim to understand the concept of a system that can act as both a creator/transmitter of beliefs and a reciever/responder to beliefs, although given their own hands, for example, act both as input and output devices makes that a little hard to credit.

    It would be extremely interesting to know exactly where the failure of reasoning occurs in people who believe that mind and matter are independent and unrelated things, and the mind is somehow "less real" than the matter that constitutes it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @11:06AM (#29978358)

    I'd also rate dental pain as probably the worst pain in the male body

    You've obviously never passed a kidney stone.

  • Oh come on, guys (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Phroggy ( 441 ) <.moc.yggorhp. .ta. .3todhsals.> on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @11:44AM (#29979038) Homepage

    No active ingredient? They did apply a cream. If you've had painful heat applied to your arm, rubbing butter on it will make it feel better; lidocaine would feel MORE better*, but this isn't a sugar pill.

    * "Me fail English? That's unpossible!"

The IQ of the group is the lowest IQ of a member of the group divided by the number of people in the group.