A recent article in Smithsonian Magazine (May, 2017), by Robert Siegel, illustrates the questions regarding the placebo effect in medicine. For those of you not familiar with this, it simply implies that if you believe something will help you, it sometimes will. This belief commonly happens with drug studies, when those taking the “sham” medicine also report improvement. For acupuncture, some controlled studies have shown that the insertion of needles in the wrong areas, or incorrectly inserted, still elicit favorable relief from the patient.
Who knows how much this placebo effect can impacts a patient’s level of relief? I know in my clinic, those who do not think the acupuncture will work, usually do not get better no matter how appropriate the treatment. Also remember that acupuncture is used successfully on animals (usually dogs and horses) for a variety of ailments. There is no placebo effect in animals – they simply want to return to their natural state of activity, and they do so after receiving acupuncture.
The Smithsonian article eluded to the question that perhaps the placebo effect itself should be examined more closely. In drug testing, MRI studies are now showing that placebos, like real pharmaceuticals, actually trigger the release of neurochemicals such as endorphins. It is amazing that we are still learning new things about the body and finding new ways to maintain health in a progressively challenging world