When we hear the phrase, “The mind controls the body,” we immediately think of the voluntary processes we make our bodies do. If you want to pick up a toy from the ground, you will direct your brain on how you want to move to pick it up, and it will then move the necessary muscles to achieve that goal. This process of “need-order-achieve” is the same mechanism that directs our everyday lives. An important question must be asked here: what if this procedure could be used for more?
Today, scientists and physicians around the world are discovering a new, deeper meaning to the phrase. Our brains can influence our bodies in ways that, at a time, were thought the stuff of folklore. One of the most prevalent examples of this power is the placebo effect. The placebo effect is defined as an inactive treatment or substance that looks and feels just like a regular medical treatment.
The placebo effect’s perplexing and astonishing ability to affect our bodies has spurred physicians (and their patients!) to rediscover the true potential of the human body. Miraculous Events In the past few decades, numerous medical experiments have proven that placebo treatments, or “sham” treatments, are in fact effective in healing real diseases. One of the most prominent of these experiments was lead by Ted Kaptchuk, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard University.
In his tests, he treated two groups of unknowing patients with two different placebo treatments and told both groups that they might experience uncomfortable side effects.
Surprisingly enough, about a third of the patients called back complaining of the “side effects” while the remaining two-thirds noted physical improvement of their conditions. His studies prove that not only do patients receiving placebos feel better (as some physicians argue), but they also physically improve (“The Placebo Phenomenon”).
Another example of the potency of placebos is the study conducted at the Houston Veteran’s Hospital by leading surgeons. Their study included performing real knee surgery on half of a group of patients while performing fake knee surgery on the second half.
The results were groundbreaking: those who underwent the actual surgery fared no better than those who received placebo treatments. From these findings, the doctors conducting the study concluded that the surgery itself was not responsible for the improvement, but the effect of the thought of surgery was. In other words, a patient’s progress is due to the ability of the mind to heal the body when one expects treatment to be happening (“Research Shows Placebos may have a Place in Everyday Treatments”).
The Science behind the Placebo Effect While the exact and precise reason the placebo effect is so effective is a modern mystery, several theories that could lead to a definite answer are circulating the medical community. The first of which: the placebo effect works because we want it to. Scientifically speaking, placebos have no reason to work as well as a medicine does: they hold not therapeutic value and should therefore, not affect the body in any way.
Yet, patients who are given placebos, whether they know it or not, show the same results (sometimes even better results) as those who are given real medical treatments.
(Placebos are not secretive: 60% of patients who knew they were given placebos still showed improvement. (“Placebos Work—Even without Deception”)).
How is this possible? As Petr Skrabanek and Jame McCormick mentioned in their book, Follies and Fallacies in Medicine, “The physician’s belief in the treatment and the patient’s faith in the physician exert a mutually reinforcing effect; the result is a powerful remedy that is almost guaranteed to produce an improvement and sometimes a cure. “(“Placebo Effect”) Ever since we were children, we were brought up to believe that the local doctor could cure anything we brought to his office.
As adults, that mentality hasn’t changed. Lissa Rankin, author of Mind over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You can Heal Yourself and a pioneer in the study of the relationship between the mind and body, explains why patients got better when they (supposedly) weren’t supposed to. She believes that, “The body can heal itself; the body has these innate natural self-repair mechanisms. But the scientific data proves that you need the tending, nurturing care of a healthcare provider of some sort, of a healer, to facilitate that process.
” In other words, patients need to feel looked after and cared for in order to initiate the body’s self-healing process (“Is there Scientific Proof we Can Heal Ourselves? ”). According to Maj-Britt Niemi, an author for Scientific American, “Placebo effects can arise not only from a conscious belief in a drug but also from subconscious associations between recovery and the experience of being treated—from the pinch of a shot to a doctor’s white coat. ”(“Research Shows Placebos may have a Place in Everyday Treatments”).
In fact, some researchers such as Ted Kaptchuk of Harvard University go as far to say that the doctor him/herself is the placebo (“The Placebo Phenomenon”)! While the scientific theories outnumber the psychological theories as to why the placebo effect works, the most popular scientific reason depends on the biochemical interrelation between the mind and the body.
Since the 1970s, researchers have known that placebos use the same chemical pathways that their medicinal counterparts do by proving that by chemically restricting the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain-killer, scientists could restrict the effect of placebos.
For example, researcher Fabrizio Benedetti of the University of Turin (Italy) has shown that placebos use the same pathways that opium and marijuana, pleasure inducing-substances, do. Other researchers have proven that placebos increase the excretion of dopamine, a chemical that influences pleasure and reward sensations and emotions (“The Placebo Phenomenon”). While others have shown that some placebos (depending on the need of the patient) have the ability to reduce the response of the brain’s pain-sensing regions.
Another speculation is that while this region can also release pain-relieving opioids in the brain, it can also draw attention away from the pain (“Revealed: How Placebo Effect Works”).
In essence, the placebo effect is many other psychological effects intertwined together, such as the Hawthorne effect (the existence of change due to the awareness of being studied) and the “regression to the mean” (a statistical phenomena that can make natural variance appear as though the result of real change)(“The Placebo Effect and other Confounders” & “The Placebo Phenomenon” & “The Hawthorne Effect: Stronger than the Placebo Effect?”).
To conclude, these are merely hypotheses. The definite answer will be known when the brain, and its full impact on the body, has been fully understood. The Good News With drug company scandals and incompetent doctors running rampant all over the world, many patients are resorting to use placebos as their medicine of choice. Countless cases of doctors telling a patient that he/she has a few months to live only to have the patient outlive the following five years are causing people to question whether their physicians are as qualified as they play out to be.
Nowadays as we grow more skeptical of our doctors, our reliance on our own facilities is also growing, making more and more people resort to placebos. An interesting point to remember is that the placebo can be a treatment and not necessarily a drug. For example, if a person who had very thin hair heard and believed that jogging everyday could thicken her hair and committed to that, her hair can grow thicker without the need to a) be put down by doctor’s pessimism and b) needing to visit a costly doctor.
Placebos offer patients the chance to try new drugs without having to suffer a single side effect, even if the possibility of incurring a side effect were relatively low. As corporate greed flourishes, the number of patients able to afford visiting a doctor and buying medicine is plummeting. Since placebos contain no active ingredient, manufacturing them is inexpensive and acquiring them does not require a doctor’s prescription, eliminating the need to see one in the first place.
Placebos offer an alternative healing process, one that is inexpensive, practical, and completely risk free*. The Bad News Unfortunately, the placebo effect is not a modern panacea. Many times, the placebo effect’s evil twin, the nocebo effect*, is experienced. Placebo is the Latin term for “I shall please, ” while nocebo is Latin for “I shall harm. ” Nocebos work in similar ways as placebos do: the same force that can heal a person can harm as well. Recall the study done by Kaptchuk of Harvard University.
When a portion of his patients called back complaining of the negative side effects of the “treatment,” in reality, they were experiencing the nocebo effect. Because he mentioned to his volunteers that there was a possibility they could suffer from the side effects, they did. In other cases, patients who were given saline (a fluid harmless to the body) and told it was chemotherapy actually vomited and lost their hair! This adds a serious hazard to taking placebos (“The Nocebo Effect: How Negative Thoughts Can Harm Your Health”).
On the same note, patients are not the only ones suffering from the placebo effect. Drug companies have recently been under severe scrutinization and pressure by patients and alternative healthcare providers to test the effectiveness of their drugs compared to that of placebos. Pharmaceuticals now have to prove that their drugs are not only safe and effective (which is virtually impossible as every medicine has its hazards), but also more powerful than placebos.
During the study done by the Houston surgeons, the results proved that the multi-billion dollar industry that is knee surgery is a complete fraud, outraging the 650 thousand people who paid outrageous amounts of money to have the procedure done.
Numerous law cases and ethical debates have been spurred as to whether it is responsible of a physician to prescribe placebos and accept money for authorizing an “empty” drug. Conclusion The placebo effect is a powerful tool that, when understood fully, has serious potential to change the way many systems are set in our lives, most importantly, medicine.
That being said, the placebo effect is not exclusive to our bodies and drugs. It embodies a very important and potent force in our lives: the law the attraction. The law of attraction states that “like attracts like” and the placebo effect is the essence of that attraction. In fact, some say that the law of attraction is actually the placebo effect at work. Now the question to be asked: how many placebos do we use in our lives? Works Cited Abelson, Richard. “The Placebo Effect & Other Confounders. ” Posted in 2010. http://www. revophth. com/content/d/therapeutic_topics/c/22689/.
Berthelot, Jean-Marie. “The Hawthorne effect: Stronger than the Placebo Effect? ” Posted in 2011. http://211. 144. 68. 84:9998/91keshi/Public/File/14/78-4/pdf/1-s2. 0-S1297319X11001515-main. pdf Davis, Lerche Jeanie. “Revealed: How Placebo Effect Works. ”
Pain Management Health Center. Posted in 2004. http://www. webmd. com/pain-management/news/20040219/revealed-how-placebo-effect-works Kaptchuk, Ted. “The Placebo Phenomenon. ” Harvard Magazine. Posted in 2013. http://harvardmagazine. com/2013/01/the-placebo-phenomenon Kolata, Gina. “3 Billion Dollar Hoax. ” Health Articles.
Posted in 2002. http://articles. mercola. com/sites/articles/archive/2002/07/24/knee-surgery. aspx Mercola, Joseph. “Placebos Work Even without Deception. ” Posted in 2011. http://articles. mercola. com/sites/articles/archive/2011/01/13/placebos-work–even-without-deception. aspx Rankin, Lissa.
“The Nocebo Effect: How Negative Thoughts Can Harm Your Health. ” Posted in 2013. http://lissarankin. com/the-nocebo-effect-how-negative-thoughts-can-harm-your-health “Is There Scientific Proof we Can Heal Ourselves? ” Posted in 2012. http://www. youtube. com/watch? v=LWQfe__fNbs.