What Exactly is a Placebo and Why Does it Matter?

What Exactly is a Placebo and Why Does it Matter?

Isn’t a placebo just a useless sugar pill? Placebos can actually do more than what we think.


A placebo shows your body’s ability to heal. Many people believe that a placebo is useless. In reality there have been many studies that show a placebo is just as good a treatment.

Placebos set the expectation that something is going to make you better. Your brain receives that message and your body knows what to do to heal itself.

Placebos have been effective for depression. A lot of anti-depressant research has shown placebos and anti-depressants to be almost the same effectiveness in treating depression.

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Dr. Heather Tick: Somebody told me that that’s just a placebo but what does that actually mean? Let’s talk about placebos. Placebos came into common usage when we were doing tests on drugs to see if they were useful and the thing that we compare the drug to was something called a placebo or a sugar pill, and so placebo took on the meaning of something that’s not worthwhile and that’s not useful at all. In reality, what placebo is, is your body’s ability to heal and there are many studies that have happened where the placebo is as good as the treatment and it doesn’t necessarily mean that the treatment wasn’t any good.

Sometimes when you do a study and you do a placebo, a fake treatment, a treatment and then absolutely nothing. You’ll see that the two groups that had something done – the placebo intervention and then the treatment Intervention, maybe very closed to each other. There’s a lot of anti-depressant research that shows that. That the placebo and the anti-depressant are almost the same in their effectiveness and both of them are more effective than doing nothing. So what is that mean? It means that there’s a context to getting a placebo. There’s an expectation that maybe I’m getting something that’s going to help me and then it’s the miraculous occurrence of our brain and our body saying, “Oh. I know what to do. I can get better.”

Now, let me give you an example from my own life. I used to when I was studying in Graduate School, stay up at about 2 o clock in the morning. Terrible habit, I don’t recommend it. But I would stay up and study when it was time for exams or right papers. And I would always have a cup of coffee late at night to keep me awake for that task. And then the person I was living with, at one point started making the coffee for me. And I still found it very, very effective until one night I had to go make it myself and I look in the cupboard and there was decaf coffee. So the decaf coffee had done the same thing that the real coffee had done because I had the expectation that I was going to stay awake and it was going to stimulate me that way. So it’s the body and the brain and the ability they have to shape our outcomes, to shape what we do and how we feel.

2017-06-15T12:35:32+00:00 November 10th, 2016|Mind Body|

About the Author:

For over 20 years Dr. Tick has dedicated herself to researching evidence-based holistic treatments for pain and inflammation. A multiple-book author, including the highly acclaimed Holistic Pain Relief - An In-Depth Guide to Managing Chronic Pain, Dr. Tick empowers her patients to live free of pain and full of life. She is the first holder of the prestigious Gunn-Loke Endowed Professorship of Integrative Pain Medicine at the University of Washington and a Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Washington in the departments of Family Medicine and Anesthesiology & Pain Medicine.

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