Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

All Placebos Not Created Alike: In A Trial Of Sham Acupuncture Vs. Oral Placebo Pill, Patients Experienced Greater Pain Reduction From Sham Device

Date:
February 8, 2006
Source:
Harvard Medical School
Summary:
While researchers usually use placebos in clinical trials to test the effectiveness of a new treatment, this trial pitted one placebo against another. "It's upside down research," said Ted Kaptchuk, assistant professor of medicine and associate director of the Division for Research and Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies and the Osher Institute at Harvard Medical School. "We investigated whether a sham acupuncture device has a greater placebo effect than an inert pill."

The debate about the existence of a placebo effect has heated up over the past year as more and more lab experiments are detecting immediate physiological responses to placebos. A new study takes placebo investigations out of the lab and into a clinical trial, showing a discernible placebo effect over time, according to an article in the Feb. 1 British Medical Journal.

Related Articles


While researchers usually use placebos in clinical trials to test the effectiveness of a new treatment, this trial pitted one placebo against another. "It's upside down research," said Ted Kaptchuk, assistant professor of medicine and associate director of the Division for Research and Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies and the Osher Institute at Harvard Medical School. "We investigated whether a sham acupuncture device has a greater placebo effect than an inert pill."

The study of 270 individuals with chronic arm pain had two phases. In the first phase, 135 patients were given sham acupuncture, and another 135 patients were given a placebo pill for two weeks. During this period, investigators found no strong evidence for an enhanced effect with placebo devices compared with placebo pills.

In the second phase of the study, the same patients were randomized again, with half the patients entered in a sham acupuncture device versus real acupuncture trial, and the other half in a placebo pill vs. real pain pill trial. The acupuncture trial extended four more weeks (the length believed needed to see improvement), and the pill trial lasted six more weeks (the length needed to have the real drug in the bloodstream).

In the second phase of the study, patients receiving sham acupuncture reported a more significant decrease in pain and symptom severity than those receiving placebo pills for the duration of the trials. The results of this study show that the placebo effect varies by type of placebo used.

"These findings suggest that the medical ritual of a device can deliver an enhanced placebo effect beyond that of a placebo pill. There are many conditions in which ritual is irrelevant when compared with drugs, such as in treatment of a bacterial infection," said Kaptchuk, "but the other extreme may also be true. In some cases, the ritual may be the critical component."

The enhanced placebo effect illustrated in this study applied only to subjective reports from patients about their perception of pain and the severity of their condition. More objective measures of grip strength showed no difference in improvements between the two placebos.

The results also provided evidence that what doctors tell patients about side effects directly influences their experience of them. Prior to participating in the study, doctors provided informed consent forms alerting the patients as to the side effects they might experience: temporary soreness for acupuncture and fatigue and dry-mouth for the pills. Of those receiving placebos, 25 percent of sham acupuncture and 31 percent of placebo pill patients reported experiencing the very side effects suggested to them even when nothing was administered to cause them.

This study takes the first step away from examining the placebo effect as a generalized phenomenon to one investigating how it varies in specific clinical environments. Kaptchuk and his colleagues have initiated other National Institute of Health funded studies that will explore the placebo phenomenon in clinical trials for different illnesses and in laboratory experiments that focus on underlying neurobiological, biochemical, genetic and psychological mechanisms.

Though the results of this study add evidence pointing to the existence of a placebo effect in a clinical environment, Kaptchuk does not recommend the use of placebos with patients or deception in the doctor-patient encounter. The aim is to understand how the ritual of healing affects health outcomes.



Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Harvard Medical School. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Harvard Medical School. "All Placebos Not Created Alike: In A Trial Of Sham Acupuncture Vs. Oral Placebo Pill, Patients Experienced Greater Pain Reduction From Sham Device." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 February 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/02/060206233120.htm>.
Harvard Medical School. (2006, February 8). All Placebos Not Created Alike: In A Trial Of Sham Acupuncture Vs. Oral Placebo Pill, Patients Experienced Greater Pain Reduction From Sham Device. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 29, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/02/060206233120.htm
Harvard Medical School. "All Placebos Not Created Alike: In A Trial Of Sham Acupuncture Vs. Oral Placebo Pill, Patients Experienced Greater Pain Reduction From Sham Device." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/02/060206233120.htm (accessed January 29, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Are We Winning The Fight Against Ebola?

Are We Winning The Fight Against Ebola?

Newsy (Jan. 29, 2015) The World Health Organization announced the fight against Ebola has entered its second phase as the number of cases per week has steadily dropped. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Measles Scare Sends 66 Calif. Students Home

Measles Scare Sends 66 Calif. Students Home

AP (Jan. 29, 2015) Officials say 66 students at a Southern California high school have been told to stay home through the end of next week because they may have been exposed to measles and are not vaccinated. (Jan. 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Group Encourages Black Moms to Breastfeed

Group Encourages Black Moms to Breastfeed

AP (Jan. 29, 2015) A grassroots effort is underway in several US cities to encourage more black women to breastfeed their babies by teaching them the benefits of the age-old practice, which is sometimes shunned in African-American communities. (Jan. 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Sugary Drinks May Cause Early Puberty In Girls, Study Says

Sugary Drinks May Cause Early Puberty In Girls, Study Says

Newsy (Jan. 28, 2015) Harvard researchers found that girls who consumed more than 1.5 sugary drinks a day had their first period earlier than those who drank less. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins