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Video: Study: Placebos work, even without deception

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    >>> we're back tonight with some fascinating new research on what we've all known as the placebo effect . it's generally thought that dummy pills, or sugar pills, work precisely because so much of it is in your head and patients don't know they're fake. tonight, results of a new study suggesting that secrecy may not have to be part of feeling bettier without actual medicine. our report from our chief science correspondent robert bazell .

    >> reporter: diane knows all about the placebo effect . still, she was surprised how much it helped her in this latest study.

    >> this was like a miracle to me.

    >> reporter: many view the placebo effect as the strongest evidence for the mind-body connection in medicine. in studies of new drugs, patients don't know whether they get the drug or a placebo, a dummy pill . often those on placebo get better. this new study takes the placebo effect to a higher level.

    >> it's possible to harness the placebo effect without deceiving patients.

    >> reporter: researchers recruited 80 people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, a condition affecting 15% of the population, brought on by stress and other factors.

    >> the treatment options are quite limited, which makes it very difficult for doctors to adequately treatment patients.

    >> reporter: half the volunteers got a bottle of bills labeled placebo. the other half got nothing. after three weeks, 59% of those taking the placebo improved. the scientists believe that some people get better simply from the ritual of interacting with doctors, including getting pills. half of all doctors admit to giving patients a placebo without their knowledge. this suggests placebos may have a wider application as honest treatments.

    >> i don't think a placebo pill will shrink a tumor, but it is likely to affect chronic pain situations, low back pain and headache.

    >> reporter: all that must be proved. but in some cases, a placebo might be the best medicine. robert bazell , nbc news, new york.

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