Monday, August 13, 2007

Follow-up on "Richard Dawkins Going After Faith Healer"

In a blog post on this topic, there was mention of the placebo effect and how, if this is what is going on in all of these treatments, then simply fooling the subjects is more than sufficient rather than giving this cranky story about "homeopathy". Now we have an even clearer study on what is going on in the brain of subjects that either response, or are not affected, by the placebo effect.

Specifically, the research finds strong links between an individual’s response to a placebo "painkiller," and the activity of the neurotransmitter known as dopamine in the area of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens. That’s a small region at the center of the brain that’s involved in our ability to experience pleasure and reward, and even to become addicted to the "high" caused by illicit drugs.

The new research, published in the July 19 issue of the journal Neuron, builds on research previously published by the same U-M team in 2005. That study was the first to show that just thinking a placebo "medicine" will relieve pain is enough to prompt the brain to release its own natural painkillers, endorphins, and that this corresponds with a reduction in how much pain a person feels.

But the work also explains why others do not respond to it. Wouldn't it be interesting if these "alternative" medical treatments actually have the same type of statistics?


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