The placebo effect is not only real; its ability to deaden pain has been pinpointed to cells in the spinal cord. That raises hopes for new ways of treating conditions such as chronic pain.
The researchers who made the discovery scanned the spinal cords of volunteers while applying painful heat to one arm. Then they rubbed a cream onto the arm and told the volunteers that it contained a painkiller – but in fact it had no active ingredient. Even so, the cream made spinal-cord neural activity linked to pain vanish.
"This type of mechanism has been envisioned for over 40 years for placebo analgesia," says Donald Price, a neuroscientist at the University of Florida in Gainesville, who was not involved in the new study. "This study provides the most direct test of this mechanism to date."
Indeed, the biggest obstacle to establishing the spinal cord's role in placebo pain relief was measuring its activity with fMRI scanning, says Falk Eippert, a neuroscientist at the University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany, who led the study.
Squeezing a scan
FMRI scanning has long been used to image the brain, but the part of the spinal cord that Eippert's team was interested in – the dorsal horn – is minuscule in comparison, and so is harder to image. It also swims around in cerebrospinal fluid, further complicating real-time measurement.
The team's first breakthrough was to squeeze an fMRI signal out of the spinal cord. Then they quickly adapted the technique to study placebo pain relief.
This meant telling 13 volunteers a white lie. They were told that the researchers were testing how effective a painkilling cream was, with an inactive cream as a control on the trial.
In fact, neither cream contained anaesthetic. However, when Eippert's team applied the alleged painkilling cream for the first time, they turned down the intensity of painful heat stimulation to 40 per cent of each volunteer's pain threshold – 46 °C on average. When the team tested the alleged control cream, they kept the temperature set at 80 per cent of the pain threshold – an average of 47 °C.
Because of this "fixing" of the temperatures, the volunteers would think, "'OK, this really seems to work, and it will work when I take it the next time,'" Eippert explains.
Feeling the heat
Later, with an fMRI scanner on, the researchers rubbed "control" and "painkiller" creams onto two different spots on each volunteer's left forearm and applied the same level of heat to each spot, 15 times.
The fake "painkiller" cream worked: volunteers said they experienced 26 per cent less pain on the "painkiller"-treated patch of their arm, compared with the "control"-treated area.
Meanwhile, the fMRI scanner witnessed the placebo effect. When skin treated with the "control" cream was heated, an area of the dorsal horn located on the left side of volunteers' lower necks lit up, suggesting increased neural activity there in response to pain. However, this signal disappeared in the "painkiller" trials.
Eippert's team didn't discover what caused this shift. He speculates that higher brain areas involved in buying into the bogus treatment trigger the release of endogenous opioids – chemicals our brain produces that work like opiates and may temper spinal cord activity.
Now that researchers know the neural hallmark of placebo pain relief, they could use it to develop treatments, cognitive or chemical, that take better advantage of belief, Eippert says.
The word placebo comes from the Latin for "I shall please."
No Bank Deposits Will Be Spared from Confiscation 2013 05 18
As alert Zero Hedge readers are aware, this week the EURO Politburo is busy debating the dodgy subject of deposit "bail-ins."
The following article very succinctly explains this odious mode of fractal fractional reserve end-game chicanery.
The author encourages all of you to share it with others.
NO BANK DEPOSITS WILL BE SPARED FROM CONFISCATION
By Matthias Chang Esq, futurefastforward.com (with author’s permission)
I challenge ...
Military Says No Presidential Authorization Needed To Quell “Civil Disturbances” 2013 05 17 A recent Department of Defense instruction alters the US code applying to the military’s involvement in domestic law enforcement by allowing US troops to quell “civil disturbances” domestically without any Presidential authorization, greasing the skids for a de facto military coup in America along with the wholesale abolition of Posse Comitatus.
The instruction (embedded at the end of this article), which ...
Ancient Maya Pyramid Destroyed in Belize 2013 05 17 An archaeological group says it plans to take legal action.
Despite its small size, the Caribbean country of Belize is known for a few outstanding characteristics: a spectacular barrier reef, a teeming rain forest, and extensive Maya ruins.
It now has one fewer of those ruins.
A construction company in Belize has been scooping stone out of the major pyramid at the site ...
Ginger: A Warming Herb 2013 05 17
Ginger is an Asian herb that is particularly well known to us in the West. Over time, and with trial and error, its stimulating properties and piquant flavor have been integrated into both our herbal “materia medica” and cuisine.
Brewed as an herbal tea, ginger root is particularly helpful for those people who have underactive stomachs and difficulty producing adequate amounts ...
Australian man dead for 40 minutes revived with new CPR machine 2013 05 17 In an Australian first, doctors have used a new resuscitation technique to revive three patients who were clinically dead for up to an hour.
One of the lucky survivors was Colin Fiedler, 49, who was pronounced dead at The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, Victoria, after suffering a heart attack, The Herald Sun reported.
Doctors brought Fieldler back to life using a U.S.-made ...