A  recently published study has some interesting insight on how the placebo effect may help Irritable Bowel Syndrome patients. A placebo in medical terms is essentially a “fake treatment” usually used to test the validity of drugs during testing. When a drug is being tested, patients are split into different control groups. One group is given a placebo(often a sugar pill) while the other is given the actual drug. The two groups are compared to see how effective the drug was versus the placebo. The interesting thing about the placebo is that in many cases people will see improvement in their symptoms during these studies even when they’re taking the placebo. This is called the “placebo effect”, where by the body responds to the notion that whatever they are being given is of benefit & somehow improves the persons condition despite the fact that there was nothing special in the pill. The actual reasons behind the placebo effect are still unknown, but it is quite interesting that the body has this response and it might prove beneficial for some people as this study shows.This study was on the placebo effect itself. A total number of 80 participants were split into two groups(43 no-treatment / 37 placebo treatment). Each group was given a pep talk about the importance of the placebo effect, how crucial both groups were to testing the beneficial benefits of the placebo effect & also had access to a nurse practioner and/or medical doctor who they could discuss IBS with. The non-treatment group did not receive any pill at all, while the placebo group was given a pill that had no medicinal power. They were explicitly informed that the pill had no medicinal properties to it and was a placebo.

The results were pretty amazing as 59% of those receiving the placebo pill reported “Adequate Symptom Relief” vs  35% who did not receive a placebo pill. What makes this very interesting is that these results match up with test results for various IBS drugs, the study specifically mentions Alosetron(anti-diarrhea/cramping drug)  which showed 51% of patients receiving relief while taking the drug vs 38% seeing relief when taking a placebo.

There are some issues with the study as they only tested 80 people(small sample size) for only three weeks. It does not appear they will track these patients longer. It would be interesting to see if the placebo has a lasting effect or passes once the placebo pills run out.

Ultimately I think it’s a testament to the power the mind can have over the body. This is not to attribute Irritable Bowel Syndrome as being all in someones head, but it does shed some light on the possibility that this is a problem with balance between the gut and the mind. Hopefully this study will not be used by doctors to justify writing off someones complaints of Irritable Bowel Syndrome as baloney. One of big things the study highlighted was how the study patients liked the fact that the doctor/nurse took their concerns seriously & seemed understanding of the symptoms they experienced and the toll Irritable Bowel Syndrome can take on a person. There was also the feeling that the study & the doctor/nurse had the goal of making them better, rather than putting their hands up in the air or rushing the person out the door. Embracing a dedicated mind/body approach into general practice medicine would be a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately I think we’re still quite a ways off as there seems to be an issue with overworked doctors & our “fast food” medical system that seems more concerned with pushing patients in and out the door rather than accepting the challenge of chronic illness and working on a solution.