Belief in cold remedies may be enough to help

Tue Jul 12, 2011 9:47pm EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - People who believe a cold remedy will work may indeed feel better sooner -- even if they don't get the real treatment, according to a U.S. study.

The findings are evidence that the so-called "placebo effect" is at work in recovery from the common cold, which famously has no cure, researchers wrote in the Annals of Family Medicine.

So if the treatment that people believe in -- from chicken soup to Vitamin C -- does no harm, they might as well stick with it, they added.

"These findings support the general idea that beliefs and feelings about treatments may be important and perhaps should be taken into consideration when making medical decisions," wrote lead researcher Bruce Barrett, of the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

The placebo effect refers to a phenomenon seen in clinical trials when people given inactive, fake "treatments," such as a sugar pill or saline -- show improvements. It has been observed in a range of conditions, including chronic pain, depression, inflammatory disorders and even cancer.

Barrett and his colleagues randomly assigned 719 people with the beginnings of cold symptoms to one of four groups.

In one group, people were given the herbal cold remedy Echinacea and knew they were taking it. Two other groups were given either Echinacea or a placebo, but participants did not know which they were taking. The fourth group received no pills of any kind.

Overall, there were no significant differences among the groups when it came to the severity or duration of the participants' symptoms, which lasted about a week in all cases.

But then the researchers focused on the 120 people who, upon entering the study, gave high ratings to Echinacea's effectiveness.   Continued...