Understanding the Placebo Effect to Unlock the Power of Medicine (Harvard Magazine)

Ted Kaptchuk, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and one of the founders of the Program in Placebo Studies and the Therapeutic Encounter, is working to legitimize placebos as a worthwhile research subject, Harvard Magazine reports. He is seeking the answers to how medical interventions with no active drug ingredients can stimulate real physiological responses.

Kaptchuk’s team has investigated the neural mechanisms of placebos, and have found that placebo treatments affect the areas of the brain that modulate pain reception, as do negative side effects from placebo treatment. Their latest findings have shown “that patients with a certain variation of a gene linked to the release of dopamine were more likely to respond to sham acupuncture than patients with a different variation.”

Part of what he’s found out, according to Harvard Magazine, is that the ritual of medicine, that is, the treatment of patients by healthcare providers, may be potent medicine. The Magazine writes, “the methods of placebo administration are as important as the administration itself,” and that the patients who have experienced the greatest relief were those who received the most care.

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