The Placebo Effect and IBS

By Dr. Charles D. Gerson

Placebo treatment has won new respect in the medical literature. It has the advantage of no side-effects and there is no doubt that patients, including those with IBS, can respond to placebo treatment with improvement in their symptoms. Brain imaging studies show a fascinating picture: placebos in IBS can cause some of the same changes in the brain as active treatment, when symptoms are reduced.

Recently, the placebo story became even more complicated. It had been thought that patients respond to placebo because they think they are being given real medicine. However, a recent research study looked at placebo response after IBS patients had actually been told that they were receiving a placebo. One would have predicted that this knowledge would take the suggestive magic out of the placebo’s effectiveness but the patients responded just as they would have if they thought they were receiving real medication!

How can this be explained? Perhaps IBS patients had been told that this placebo had been effective in previous placebo experiments (where patients had not been told it was a placebo). Or did the experience of hopefulness engendered by being given a pill by an expert professional lead to healing? At the MBDC, we believe that the relationship between healer and patient is key to improvement, regardless of the form of treatment.