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."
ABC Is Hiding Details of Killer Vester Flanagan's Manifesto ...(Must Be Littered With Liberal Propaganda) 2015-08-29 3:45
Killer Vester Flanagan was a big Obama supporter.
But, you’d never know it from the liberal media.
The media is hiding Flanagan’s political leanings from the American public.
ABC has yet to release Flanagan’s manifesto.
It must be littered with embarrassing liberal propaganda.
The Tatler reported, via Instapundit:
Two days ago, ABC News reported that Vester Flanagan, the murderer of two WDBJ employees, sent a 23-page ...
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Austria said on Friday 71 refugees including a baby girl were found dead in an abandoned freezer truck, while Libya recovered the bodies of 82 migrants washed ashore after their overcrowded boat sank on its way to Europe and scores more were feared dead.
The U.N. refugee agency said the number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe ...
Financial Times Calls For Abolishing Cash 2015-08-29 1:07
liminating physical currency necessary to give central banks more power
The Financial Times has published an anonymous article which calls for the abolition of cash in order to give central banks and governments more power.
Entitled The case for retiring another ‘barbarous relic’, the article laments the fact that people are stockpiling cash in anticipation of another economic collapse, a factor which ...
Serbian government bans anti-mass immigration protests, and plans ahead for mass immigration 2015-08-29 1:52
Nebojsa Stefanovic, Serbia’s Interior Minister said protesters who are concerned about “an EU plan” to settle thousands of illegal immigrants into the country, will not be allowed to voice their concerns in a protest march on Monday, 31st of August.
“We will not allow the expression of intolerance and hatred to be something that is characteristic of Serbia” said Stefanovic.
“The Ministry ...
Germany asks Facebook to remove 'racist' anti-migrant posts 2015-08-28 20:32 Heiko Maas, Germany's justice minister, says social network should remove xenophobic posts in the same way it deals with nudity
Germany is calling on Facebook to remove “xenophobic and racist” anti-migrant posts from its website and apps.
Heiko Maas, the German justice minister, has written to the company to demand an urgent review of its policy over hate messages.
“Photos of certain ...