There’s something really empowering about the placebo effect. It means that you have the power to heal yourself – that’s really quite remarkable. If you’re not yet convinced, here are 10 breathtaking statistics about the placebo effect.

  1. 97% of UK general practitioners have prescribed placebos: A survey of UK GPs found that a huge number had prescribed placebos. This suggests that doctors do believe there is a benefit to placebos and that they have a place in clinical practice. If doctors are willing to use placebos in clinical practice, research is much more likely to progress in the field.
  2. Open-label placebos can improve IBS symptoms by 60%: When placebos are prescribed honestly and openly, without deception, they are called open-label placebos (OLPs). Open-label placebos have been proven to improve the symptoms of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) by 60%. This is great news for the 10-15% of people who suffer from IBS around the world.
  3. The amount of active medication required with the conditioned placebo effect in Parkinson’s disease can be reduced by 1/3: In 2016, a study was published that showed that patients with Parkinson’s disease could be conditioned to respond to placebo injections. The patients were given an injection of Apomorphine (a Parkinson’s disease drug) every day for 4 days, after this, they were given saline placebo injections. The patients responded to the placebo as it was the active drug for 48 hours. This demonstrated that the active medication could be reduced by 1/3 following a conditioning period. This has exciting implications for improving access to medicine and reducing side effects.
  4. The severity of cancer related fatigue can be improved by 29% with open-label placebos: The placebo effect is notoriously useless at fighting cancer. But recent research had demonstrated that cancer-related nausea and fatigue can be reduced significantly by placebo use. This could make a huge difference in the quality of life for people living with cancer.
  5. In some cases, 50% of a drug’s effectiveness can be attributed to the placebo effect: A study published in 2014, looked at Maxalt (a prescription migraine treatment) and how it compared to placebos. Some participants received a placebo labelled Maxalt and some got Maxalt labelled as a placebo. They discovered that approx. 50% of the efficacy of Maxalt was attributable to the placebo effect. With this in mind, it is really important that we learn more about the placebo effect and how it relates to conventional medicine. That way, we can learn how best to maximise the placebo effect for all treatments.
  6. 30-50% of participants in studies of psychiatric disorders respond to placebos: Placebos are usually most effective for conditions which are mediated by the brain. This includes neurological, psychological and psychiatric conditions primarily. A review of several different psychiatric disorders, showed that as many as 30-50% of people in studies of these disorders responded to the placebo effect.This is bad news for most clinical trials, but it’s good news for everyone else. If we understand more about what causes people to respond to placebos, we can try to encourage stronger placebo effects in people, potentially improving the effects of treatment.
  7. Open-label placebos can cause a 15% reduction in chronic lower back pain: Pain is particularly susceptible to the placebo effect and chronic pain is particularly difficult to treat. The discovery that open-label placebos can reduce pain by 15% proves that placebos have potential to work alongside other treatments to relieve pain.
  8. 73% of athletes report having experienced the placebo effect: Alternative therapies have long been popular amongst sportsmen and women looking to boost their performance. A 2007 survey of professional athletes found that 73% of them admit to experiencing the placebo effect in sport. This is exciting, because it shows that placebos are about more than disease, they can actually help us improve performance and other aspects of our lives. If this is the case, who knows where placebos will take us next?
  9. Germans have a 54% stronger placebo response than Brazilians: Various studies have shown that different nationalities respond better to placebos for different conditions. If there are these national differences, we can begin to ask why. It may be that there are cultural or genetic variations that affect our ability to respond to placebos. Understanding these better, could help more people respond to placebos in future, improving the effects of treatment.
  10. Between 1990 and 2013, the difference between the effect of placebos and active painkillers has narrowed to just 9%: An analysis of several trials of painkillers and their effects on neuropathic pain, found that the placebo effect has got stronger since the 90s. In the 90s, participants who received the active drug, had an average of 27% more pain relief than those receiving the placebo, but in 2013, that difference was found to have narrowed to just 9%. The growing placebo effect is bad news for pharmaceutical companies, but good news for everyone else. An increasing placebo effect could help us to get the most out of our treatment, but it could also make placebos are more viable treatment option in the future.

These 10 statistics about the placebo effect, paint a picture of just how exciting the field is becoming. We are at a point in time, where we can feel empowered by our own ability to heal. And in support of this, more and more research is being done to identify exactly how the placebo effect can be put to use, to allow us to make the most of our health.

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