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Seen At 11: New Research Shows Prescription Placebo Can Improve Several Common Medical Conditions

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork)-- Could knowing you're taking a fake pill make you feel better?

Research is showing that it is possible and that some patients may not need drugs, but instead a prescription placebo, CBS2's Dick Brennan reported.

It looks like any ordinary pill, but it turns out it's fake medication that doctors confirm can cure some of the most common medical conditions.

Placebo pills worked for Linda Buonanno, who suffers from irritable bowel syndrome. The condition often strikes without notice.

"I felt horrible. I didn't have a life. I couldn't do anything. I couldn't plan anything," she said.

So when Buonanno saw an ad for a study, she signed up right away.

"I was all happy about it," she said.

But she was shocked when doctors told her she wouldn't be getting real medicine, but a placebo.

"We said very clearly you don't have to believe in it, just do it... it's kind of a crazy idea," Dr. Ted Kaptchuk of Harvard University said.

"I was so disappointed -- a placebo, a sugar pill, are you kidding? That's not gonna work," Buonanno said.

But it did work, her symptoms disappeared.

"I made plans, I went out, I didn't' have to worry about anything. I got my life back," she said

In another study, migraine sufferers were also told they were given a placebo, and their pain level was reduced by 30 percent.

Psychologist Dr. Harris Stratyner said there may be something else at work.

"I believe that there's a little part of you that's saying 'Hm.... I wonder if this really is a placebo, maybe he's just telling me that,'" Stratyner said.

But Kaptchuk said there are psychological reasons, that placebos can activate the same neurotransmitters as many powerful drugs.

"The body has an internal pharmacy for certain kinds of conditions," he said.

However, Kaptchuk notes there are limits to the placebo effect.

"We're not gonna shrink a tumor with a placebo pill," he added.

But for some conditions, it could fundamentally change the way patients are treated.

"Instead of putting people on drugs for long periods of time, if a placebo was going to work, that's probably where you want to start," Kaptchuk said.

More studies on the placebo effect will begin at Harvard later this spring.

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