Placebo the new gold standard?

What do you think about placebos? Are these sugar pills just a load of nonsence? Is it all just in the mind? I was lucky enough to see “The Power of Placebo” a Horizon programme  broadcasted on 17/02/14. Having watched this programme it is clear that science has shown that the placebo affect can occur even when the recipient knows they are taking a placebo.

Which would work best for you?

Which would work best for you?

It is not just in the mind -chemical changes do occur.  In fact one expert said that if medicine can be as successful as the placebo then they consider that they are doing well, does this mean that the placebo is the “gold star” of the pharmaceutical world? This is an odd thought! This programme was absolutely fascinating, here are some interesting facts about placebos:

  • a capsule works better than a tablet
  • a larger capsule works better than a smaller capsule
  • a more expensive capsule will work better than a cheaper version.

Perhaps these visual characteristics explain why a friend of mine (who works for Boots) recently told me that customers were complaining that their medication no longer worked when the only thing which had been changed was the packaging!

The colour matters too:

  • red is the most effective colour for a placebo when dealing with pain management
  • blue is the best colour for relieving anxiety.

This programme highlighted the fact that placebo medication works well in the following areas: pain management, depression, nausea, and attention deficit disorder. The placebo clearly works for some people and it is thought to be linked with expectation and that in turn creates measurable chemical changes within the body. In fact one gentleman managed to create enough dopamine when given the placebo resulting in him being able to control his Parkinson symptoms to the same degree as his conventional medication. How did he manage to do this when he does not understand the chemical deficiency? He couldn’t answer that one either!  All I can say is the brain is a remarkable structure and the scientists are now looking into how they can positively and ethically harness this untapped skill.

Now I have said it is untapped, but I know that  you can tap into this power with the use of hypnotherapy. Hypnotherapy was given a few minutes of fame on this programme as the “informed placebo effect”. A dental patient was trained to use hypnotherapy while he was having a wisdom tooth extracted-he experienced no pain!

Please share your thoughts in this area, or maybe you have your own placebo story to share.



  1. It is funny how we get can be convinced that one tablet works better than the next even when the only difference is the cost and the fancy packaging. Do you buy the expensive brands or do you swear by the cheaper version? I’d like to hear your placebo story.

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