Placebos - pills that have no active ingredients - are used in scientific studies as controls, and investigations are often designed so that neither patients nor doctors know who is getting the fake and who is getting the real drug. Placebos are effective about one-third of the time anyway because patients expect to feel better when given what they think is medication. Now a study has found that they can work even when patients know they're getting a blank instead of a bullet. Here, 80 individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) were divided into two groups. The first received no treatment; the second were given what were described as "sugar pills" to take twice a day for three weeks. At that point, 59 percent of the patients who used the placebos reported "adequate symptom relief" compared to 35 percent of those who had no treatment. The researchers said that the improvement was "roughly equivalent to the effects of the most powerful IBS medications" and suggested that performing the "medical ritual" of taking pills may be of significant benefit and needs more study. The results were published in the journal PLoS ONE on Dec. 22, 2010.
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