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Power of Placebo: Dummy Pills can Treat Depression

Sep 11, 2014 07:27 AM EDT
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Simple sugar pills can lower depression in people. A new study suggests that people who believe that medication will help them fight depression are more likely to respond to even placebo or fake treatments than other people who are sceptical about pharmaceutical interventions.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles. It found that the "power of pill" is indeed real for some depression patients.
"In short, if you think a pill is going to work, it probably will," said Andrew Leuchter, the study's first author and a professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

Their study included 88 people aged between 18 and 65 years. The participants were diagnosed with depression and were given eight weeks of treatment. Twenty nine patients received placebo plus supportive care, 20 were given supportive care alone and 39 got genuine medication and supportive care.

Supportive care included sessions with a therapist that assessed patients' symptoms and provided encouragement and emotional support.

The team found that treatments that included medication - real or fake- yielded better results than supportive care alone.

What's more, the efficacy of placebo treatment was dependent on the patients' expectations before the treatment. People who were positive that the drug would benefit them responded well to the placebo treatment.

The participants on true medication had better outcomes. "Interestingly, while we found that medication was more effective than placebo, the difference was modest," Leuchter said.

"These results suggest a unique role for people's expectations about their medication in engendering a placebo response," Leuchter said in a news release. "Higher expectations of medication effectiveness predicted an improvement in placebo-treated subjects, and it's important to note that people's expectations about how effective a medication may be were already formed before they entered the trial."

The study is published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.                       

Major depression is a mental health disorder. People with major depression have feelings of sadness, loss and anger. The condition can persist for days, months or even years and is more than just an "occasional feeling of blue."

Each year, 6.7 percent of all adults living in the United States suffer from major depressive disorders. Women are more likely to experience depression in their lifetime, according to National Institute of Mental Health.

Note that depression is a serious mental health condition and requires proper medical attention. The researchers in the study administered placebo treatment under controlled conditions.

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