Believe it or not

Dummy pills prove to be antidote for brain disorder

Published: Wednesday 30 June 2004

researchers from Italy recently reported that the placebo effect not only relieves the rigidity of Parkinson's disease, but it does so by altering the firing patterns of neurons in a part of the brain implicated in the malady. The study, published in Nature Neuroscience (Vol 7, No 6, June 2004), is the first to trace the placebo response to such a fundamental brain change. As per the placebo effect, if people are given a treatment that they believe will make them well, they tend to get better, even if they are not given medication.

In Parkinson's disease, neurons in a region of the brain go haywire. This leads to muscle rigidity, decreased mobility and stooped posture. Scientists from the University of Turin injected 11 Parkinson's patients with the drug apomorphine, which relieves the limb rigidity. They then measured neuronal activity. After 24 hours, they injected the patients with a plain salt solution.

After both the tests, six patients responded positively. Their neuron activity became normal even after the injection of saline water. These results "sufficiently" proved that something as insubstantial as a belief can alter the characteristics of a 'diseased' organ.

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