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Placebo's Power Dissolving

Placebo's Power DissolvingNationallyrenowned expert at Tufts says research shows "placebo effect"of sugar pills doesn't hold water.

Boston [05.29.01] For over 50 years, many doctors have believed that the best medicine is sometimes no medicine at all. Fueling the belief is the apparent success of placebos -- or sugar pills -- in helping improve the health of up to a third of the patients who have been prescribed them. But a world-renowned Tufts expert says scientific research dissolves the sugar pill's apparent punch.

According to Dr. Louis Lasagna -- dean of Tufts' Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences -- the belief that placebos actually help patients recover is based on just one study that is almost 50 years old.

"This craziness about a third of all patients no matter what they suffer from will benefit from getting a placebo, that's based on a study that my old boss Harry Beecher did at Harvard years ago," Lasagna told National Public Radio's All Things Considered.

The nationally-syndicated radio program reported that Lasagna conducted his own study and got much different results.

"About 60 percent of patients on placebo did fine, but so did 60 percent of patients who got nothing," he told All Things Considered. "So in that particular instance, I can safely conclude that what we were seeing was not suggestibility, or whatever you want to call the placebo effect, but spontaneous change."

A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine supports Lasagna's findings.

So, how can the patients' recoveries be explained?

Lasagna told ABC News that some patients just get better over time, often experiencing "spontaneous positive changes which have nothing to do with any type of treatment at all."

Sometimes the improvements can be linked to the attitude of the patient.

"Lasagna points out that not everyone is equally susceptible to the placebo effect," reports ABC News. "Patients with a positive orientation to medicine and who are more optimistic will be more likely to benefit from a placebo than patients with less hopeful attitudes."

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