Healing is often successful with placebo medicines, without side effects

Doctors are more likely to have a positive attitude towards a placebo. Often the recommendation by a doctor in combination with positive expectations works better than real medication. So why always take chemical medicines with unpleasant side effects if the placebo effect works just as effectively. Placebo is no longer a taboo among doctors, because it often works effectively. Would faith healing be based on the same principle?

Placebo effect in pain relief

In 2014, scientists in America demonstrated the placebo effect in combating migraine. Half of the effect of painkillers appears to be due to the production of substances in the brain. In the case of back pain, a placebo even has the same effect as paracetamol. The placebo effect means that our brain contributes to our recovery.

Miraculous healing

This may explain why faith healing, when it comes to pain relief or depression, sometimes shows good results. Believing that the hand of God has an effect may give the brain a similar move. The Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam started a study in 2017 to determine whether there is scientific support for faith healing. Partly inspired by the fact that a patient recovered in a medically inexplicable manner from severe pain caused by post-traumatic dystrophy.

Placebo is not always a fake medicine

It is a well-known phenomenon that patients, sometimes just by the thought that they are taking effective medicines, get rid of their ailment or experience relief from their complaints. Body and mind are inextricably linked, as is well known. Of course, there are all kinds of conditions for which regular medicines should be taken. But where possible, an alternative treatment in the form of a placebo, in combination with attention from the doctor, can certainly have the desired effect. Healing without toxic side effects.
Especially in Great Britain, almost every doctor sometimes prescribes a treatment that is not necessarily necessary, PlosOne reported in March 2013. According to scientists, this is not a bad thing because patients do benefit from such placebo treatments. Doctors prescribe a diagnostic test or perform a physical examination, for example to calm patients, according to researchers from the University of Southampton and Oxford. And not because of necessity.

Time and attention useful medicine

Our country also regularly conducts research into the placebo effect, the positive result that is not due to a medicine or other official approach. Communication between patient and doctor plays an important role in this. Time and attention in the consultation room is important, says Jozien Bensing, professor of health psychology who has been researching communication between doctor and patient for many years. She and colleagues once analyzed around 16,000 video recordings of conversations in the consultation room. The results of good communication can even be greater than, for example, antidepressant medication.


The above-mentioned research looked at what happens in the body when people are exposed to different types of communication. To this end, four groups of patients who showed the same complaints were examined. All received the same treatment, but by two different doctors, one distant and one empathetic. The prescribed medications were recommended either enthusiastically or neutrally by both types of doctors.
Patients indicated that they would benefit more from treatment by the empathetic doctor who recommended the medication. The bottom line is that the combination of attention from the doctor and a positive expectation of a medicine is essential in the process. There are three mechanisms underlying the placebo effect:

  • Creating positive expectations in the patient. When the medicine is recommended, the body prepares itself, as it were, for a positive effect.
  • Conditioning, so that known behavior is rewarded. If the user has become accustomed to the favorable result through previous treatment, the follow-up treatment will have a more favorable effect.
  • The doctor’s attention to the patient plays an important role. With a positive approach, the brain produces serotonin and dopamine. These are neurotransmitters that cause general well-being.


Pain and depression

Most placebo research has been conducted in these two areas. MS, Parkinson’s and immune system diseases are also being investigated. In particular, the symptoms of an ailment can be reduced by the placebo effect. Unfortunately, the disease process itself does not.

Ethical consequences

Doctors often face a moral dilemma, because how should a doctor recommend a drug if he/she is not sure of its effect. Nevertheless, it is reasoned that if the chance of recovery is high, there is little objection to recommending a particular treatment.

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