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Branded Rx May Up the Power of Placebo

Branding appeared to confer treatment benefit in absence of an active ingredient

THURSDAY, Nov. 5, 2015 (HealthDay News) — A brand-name label made a placebo tablet work as well as an active nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, according to research published online Oct. 12 in Health Psychology.

The study team recruited 87 college students in New Zealand who had frequent headaches. The researchers asked the study volunteers to treat four headaches with four pills labeled either “Nurofen” (equivalent of U.S. Motrin) or “generic ibuprofen.” Two of the pills were placebos, and contained no active medication. The other two contained ibuprofen.

The participants reported the same amount of pain relief for the “Nurofen” tablets with real ibuprofen as the placebos with the same brand name. But they reported less relief from the generic placebo than the real ibuprofen tablets with a generic label.

“Branding seems to increase the placebo effect associated with a treatment,” study author Kate Faasse, Ph.D., of the University of Auckland in New Zealand, told HealthDay. “This is probably because people associate branding with higher quality and expect that they will work better. However, we still have a lot more work to do to tease out the effects and get a good understanding of what’s going on.”

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