JAN 20, 2017 06:28 AM PST

Do Sugar Pills Mess With Scientific Studies?

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

In science, experiments are often done comparing a treated group to a control group. The treated group is the one that receives any changes, while the control group is untreated, representing normal steady state. While the same set up is used for clinical trials, doctors usually give the control group a placebo pill, a treatment that mimics the actual drug in every way but lacks the crucial active compound.

Doctors do this consciously to prevent the patients' personal biases from convoluting the data results. The goal is always to ascertain a drug's effects relative to the placebo baseline. Sounds simple enough in theory, but it turns out placebo pills can actually have an effect on the patient's outcome!

Though the placebo pills shouldn't act on the patient's symptoms in any ways, some patients report getting better from these sugar pills. And it's more than just a mind trick - the placebo effect can induce the brain to produce pain-relieving chemicals. Researchers also found that though placebos are non-treatment pills, some actually work better than others: Complicated machines that do nothing apparently have a higher placebo effect than injections or pills that also do nothing.

So if you find yourself in a clinical trial, ask yourself if your symptoms are getting better due to an experimental drug, or if it's just due to the incredible the power of your mind.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
OCT 21, 2019
Health & Medicine
OCT 21, 2019
FDA Approves New Treatment for Extensively Drug-Resistant TB
Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new treatment for a severe form of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis of the lungs. Accord...
OCT 21, 2019
Space & Astronomy
OCT 21, 2019
Elon Musk Shows Off SpaceX's Shiny New Starship
If you’ve been paying any attention to SpaceX lately, then you’ve undoubtedly caught wind of the plethora of controlled launching and landing t...
OCT 21, 2019
Plants & Animals
OCT 21, 2019
These Hippos Have Found a Naturally Existing Spa
Hippos are large and captivating creatures; in fact, they can be so hazardous that researchers keep a safe distance, deploying spy cameras in their place t...
OCT 21, 2019
Plants & Animals
OCT 21, 2019
How a Venus Flytrap Works
Most people think of plants as being at the bottom of the food chain, but the Venus Flytrap defies this oversimplified way of thinking by devouring meat. W...
OCT 21, 2019
Space & Astronomy
OCT 21, 2019
How Astronomers Determine the Universe's Age
The universe is so old and so large that the Earth is but an insignificant speck of dust by comparison. Astronomers are always trying to make sense of the...
OCT 21, 2019
Space & Astronomy
OCT 21, 2019
Astronomers Find At Least 20 More Moons Orbiting Saturn
Just this past week, Saturn overtook Jupiter as the planet in our solar system with the highest number of moons. Researchers from the Carnegie Institution...
Loading Comments...