“For some of our most important beliefs, we have no evidence at all, except that people we love and trust hold these beliefs. Considering how little we know, the confidence we have in our beliefs is preposterous—and it is also essential.” 2002 Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman
That, in a nutshell is the ‘placebo effect’. It's what happens when a person takes a medication that he or she perceives will help, although it actually has no proven therapeutic benefit for their particular condition. The medicine or treatment itself is known as a placebo, from Latin, "I will please."
There are different types of placebos. They may be pharmacologically inert, meaning that they contain no active ingredients. These types of placebos often contain basic ingredients like sugar (hence the term "sugar pill"). Medications that do have active ingredients but aren't proven to work on the patient's particular condition, can also be placebos. There are, also, placebos in the form of surgery, injections and other types of medical therapies.
For decades the placebo effect has been a nuisance for the medical profession. Some people do benefit from being given a sugar pill. This remarkable result cannot be prescribed, however, since it doesn't fall within the ethics of medicine to prescribe fake drugs. Therefore, a doctor, whose education stated that "real" medicine means drugs and surgery, will shrug off the placebo effect as psychosomatic, or "it's all in your head."
This mentality shuts down a fascinating possibility: that a patient's belief system plays a major role in the healing process.
According to Deepak Chopra: “The placebo effect is real medicine, because it triggers the body's healing system. One could argue that this is the best medicine since the placebo effect has no side effects. Staying well means that the body is taking care of itself - and you - through a feedback loop of chemical messages that circulate throughout the bloodstream, lymphatic system, and central nervous system, that are crucial to the healing system, because they keep cells interconnected.
Every thought, decision, and action influences this feedback loop. Unwittingly, we damage the body's natural state of health with negative input. The fact that this negative input comes from the brain means that thoughts, moods, and expectations, get translated into chemical messages just as surely as molecules of aspirin or glucose. You and I are responsible for sending positive messages to facilitate the healing process.”
Yes, the placebo effect requires you to believe the placebo will cure you.
Belief is the oldest medicine known to man.
As Allied troops stormed the beaches of Italy, a nurse and an anesthesiologist anxiously watched a wounded soldier and could do nothing because their supply of morphine had run out. He was in severe pain and on the verge of shock. The nurse told a benevolent lie: she promised pain relief while injecting her patient with salt water. To the amazement of both nurse and doctor, the patient’s pain was relieved, and his condition improved. Henry Beecher, the anesthesiologist who witnessed this, returned from the war determined to study the real efficacy of drugs, and the placebo double blind clinical trial was born.
Half of all drugs that fail in late-stage trials drop out of the pipeline due to their inability to beat sugar pills. It’s not that the old meds are getting weaker, it seems the placebo effect is somehow getting stronger.
For doctors, the placebo effect causes frustration—sure, sugar pills worked, but how could an ethical physician use them? Discovery would mean a lawsuit and a violation of the Hippocratic oath. And yet, the placebo could be one of their best medical tools: by unlocking the body’s own healing systems with no side effects
What if people begin to believe in themselves instead of something outside of themselves?
What if they believe they can change something inside themselves and achieve the same state of being as someone who’s taking a placebo? Do people really need a pill or injection to change their state of being?
Can we teach ourselves to accomplish the same thing by learning how the placebo really works? Can we measure what’s happening in the brain, study the information and learn what to do, without relying on something outside of ourselves?
Can we believe we ARE the placebo?
This means empowering yourself to accept that you have the biological and neurological machinery to do exactly that – heal yourself!
Dr. Joe Dispenza in his book, You Are the Placebo, provides the detailed knowledge and background information one needs to be able to understand what the placebo effect is and how it operates on your brain, as well as, how to create the same kind of miraculous changes in your own body all by yourself, by thought alone.
Are we more susceptible to catching the flu because all winter long, everywhere we look, we see articles about flu season and flu-shot availability—all of which reminds us that if we don’t get a flu shot, we’ll get sick? Could it be that when we see someone with flu-like symptoms, we become ill? What does this say about the beliefs we hold and the thoughts we have every day?
Are we more likely to suffer from arthritis, joint stiffness, poor memory, and decreased energy, as we age, just because that’s the version of old age that the media projects with ads, commercials, television shows, etc.? Advertisers tell us what drugs to purchase to prevent ‘old age’ symptoms.
What other self-fulfilling prophecies are we creating without being aware of their input to our health? And what conventional truths can we reverse simply by thinking new thoughts and choosing new beliefs?
“You Are the Placebo”, makes the point that it’s your own thoughts, emotions, and beliefs that are generating chains of physiological events in your body.
“If the brain expects that a treatment will work, it sends healing chemicals into the bloodstream, which facilitates that. That’s why the placebo effect is so powerful for every type of healing. And the opposite is equally true and equally powerful: When the brain expects that a therapy will not work, it doesn’t. It’s called the ‘nocebo ‘effect.” Bruce Lipton
(more about the ‘Nocebo’ next month)
In conclusion: The power of the mind may be more important to healing than the treatment we receive.
Yes, we are the medicine that we've been looking for.