The (Limited) Power of Placebo: When the Strength of Suggestion Is Not Enough

Along with Sharon Begley's fantastic look the placebo effect and antidepressants, this week's magazine also has an infographic compiled by Begley and Sarah Kliff on how often the placebo effect makes an appearance in medicine. Turns out: more often than you think. (From the Feb. 8 issue).

In addition to depression, many illnesses show a strong response to placebo treatments. These tend to be conditions for which the body's own biochemicals, such as opiates and dopamine, act as natural medications. Because placebos trigger the production of these compounds, dummy pills can be almost as effective as real ones. Among the conditions that have been successfully treated with placebos:

  • Hypertension
  • Pain
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Psoriasis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Ulcers

Illnesses that do not respond to the body's natural opiates and other compounds show little to no placebo response either. These include:

  • Atherosclerosis
  • Cancer
  • Growth-hormone
  • Deficiency
  • High cholesterol
  • Infertility
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder