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"The amount of drugs people are taking to really only get a (minor) benefit is astronomical," Kaptchuk said. "A lot of doctors will say it's easier to write a prescription but we're not giving patients the best treatment possible when we rely on drugs."
Last year, Kaptchuk and colleagues published a study that found people with irritable bowel syndrome who knowingly took a placebo still got better, providing some proof that doctors don't always have to deceive patients when giving them dummy pills.
Previous surveys have found up to half of the doctors in Denmark, Britain and the U.S. regularly give their patients placebos without telling them.
In Britain, medical authorities completely reject the idea that placebos might be valuable.
"We don't agree with the use of placebos at all because by definition, they're a medication that has no value," said Tony Calland, chairman of the British Medical Association Medical Ethics Committee. "Using placebos isn't scientific. It sends medicine back into the 19th-century."
Other experts said some patients might get better simply by spending more time with their doctors.
"The doctor-patient relationship is critical to the placebo effect," said Irving Kirsch, a professor emeritus at the University of Hull in Britain who has studied placebos. He said for some people, placebos are a case of mind over matter.
"Patients who trust their doctors and have a psychological expectation of getting better could trigger a reaction in their body," Kirsch said.
Some Germans didn't seem averse to the idea of being prescribed less medication since the new placebo recommendations were issued, but said trusting their doctor was paramount.
Monika Sommer, 59, said she would take a placebo if her doctor recommended it.
"I would be willing to try it," she said in Berlin. "If you don't know, you have faith in the idea that you are getting something that will help and often, psychologically, that is enough."
"You just need something to take," she added.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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