Parkinson’s Disease and the Placebo effect

Viewing 1 reply thread
  • Author
    • #25169

      Worthwhile reading from an article in National Geographic (

      Placebos have been particularly effective in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. How do you explain that?

      Parkinson’s is the perfect disease to talk about placebos. It is a chronic deficiency of dopamine, which is one of those brain chemicals that does a lot of jobs in our bodies. One of [dopamine’s] important roles is in reward processing: how we think about good things we might get in the future.

      Expectation drives placebos. And dopamine is a chemical that’s very responsive to our expectations. Parkinson’s happens to be a deficiency in the very chemical that’s very important in placebo effects and rewards.

      If you look at Alzheimer’s, which does not have a high placebo response, you start to see that there are rules at play when it comes to placebos. It’s not your brain magically doing all these crazy things. There are certain chemicals we have access to and others we ydon’t.

      The article is about a new book “Suggestible You: The Curious Science of Your Brain’s Ability to Deceive, Transform, and Heal” by Erik Vance.

      Also worth reading is a more detailed article “The Placebo Effect, How it Complicates Parkinson’s Disease Research” at the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation website:

    • #25174

      Mike Pauletich, during a trial at Stanford University, believed he had surgery to alleviate Parkinson’s symptoms. In fact he’d received a sham surgery—but he did feel significant relief. “Whether it was placebo or some effect of a drug,” he says, “it doesn’t matter to me.”

      Pauletich’s improvement after the surgery was impressive. Before the trial he had struggled to move around. He had to constantly explain to clients of his technology development company that his slurred speech wasn’t caused by drinking. After the procedure his shaking disappeared, his mobility improved, and his speech became markedly clearer. (Today you can hardly tell he has the disease at all.) His doctor on the study, Kathleen Poston, was astonished. Strictly speaking, Parkinson’s had never been reversed in humans; the best one could hope for was a slowdown in the progression of the disease, and even that was extremely rare.

      Patients who had been treated with the drug did not improve any more significantly than those in a control group who had received a placebo treatment—a sham surgery in which a doctor drilled “divots” into the patient’s skull so that it would feel as if there had been an operation. Ceregene was bought by another company in 2013, and its work on neurturin for Parkinson’s has not been continued.

      Poston was crushed. But then she looked at the data and noticed something that stopped her cold. Mike Pauletich hadn’t gotten the real surgery. He had gotten the placebo.

      The above excerpts are from National Geographic:

      The article itself is a short look at some of the stories told in more detail in a a new book “Suggestible You: The Curious Science of Your Brain’s Ability to Deceive, Transform, and Heal” by Erik Vance.

      I’ve downloaded the book for reading on a cross country flight later this week…

Viewing 1 reply thread
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.