The placebo effect

The Economist this week carried a good report on the placebo effect. Although 95% of alternative therapies convey no scientific benefit, they will still cause some improvement for some patients who believe the treatment can help them. Edzard Ernst studied this at great length and is about to retire. Despite a lack of efficacy the alternative medicine market is worth about $60 billion dollars a year, a lot of money for placebos. Some of the placebo effect is explained by the body working better when a person is in a better mood and not depressed. Others work because they help a person develop better habits. Alternative therapists also spend more time with their patients building rapport, and this time confers confidence in the alternative therapy itself. Perhaps more medical doctors can follow suit and better convey confidence with therapies proven to work. There is a lot to learn from the success of placebos.

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