If there’s a cure for the common cold, perhaps it’s all in our heads.
A study recently published in the Annals of Family Medicine examined the placebo effect on people suffering from colds, and found they may feel slightly better if they believe they’re taking a remedy that helps.
About 700 participants were involved in the randomized study, which was carried out in 2004 to 2008 among people reporting the onset of symptoms of the common cold. Some of the participants were given placebo pills and some were given no pills at all. In a parallel group, everyone was given pills and a randomized subset was told the pills contained echinacea, an herbal supplement popularly thought to relieve cold symptoms.
The researchers also collected data on how long it took for each person’s cold to get better and the severity of the symptoms.
A proven, effective cure for the common cold has yet to be found. Even so, the study participants who received a placebo appeared to be less sick and to get better sooner than those who were randomized to tough it out with no pills. And among those in the echinacea-vs.-no-echinacea group, the benefits appeared to be greater for individuals who reported a belief that echinacea would help, regardless of whether the pills they received actually did contain echinacea.
Overall, the differences weren’t great. The no-pill group was sick for a mean of 7.03 days, while the other three groups got better half a day sooner.
This suggests the placebo effect, at least in this case, was modest – but perhaps not to be ignored, the study’s authors concluded: “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.”
Mind over matter? I’ll try to remember that the next time I come down with a cold.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons