The mind can have a powerful influence on the body, and in some cases can even help the body to heal. The mind can even sometimes trick you into believing that a fake treatment has real therapeutic results, a phenomenon that is known as the placebo effect. In some cases, placebos can exert an influence powerful enough to mimic the effects of real medical treatments.
The placebo effect is a real neurobiological phenomenon and as the brain’s ‘inner pharmacy’ is a critical determinant for the occurrence of psychobiological and behavioural changes relevant to healing processes and well-being.
Magical! isn’t it?
That placebo effect or more commonly known as the placebo response is beautifully depicted by the following video:
When this response occurs, many people have no idea they are responding to what is essentially a “sugar pill”. Placebos are often utilized in medical research to help doctors and scientists discover and better understand the physiological and psychological effects of new medications.
As part of placebo research, a group of Parkinson’s patients who believed they were getting a dopamine agonist drug but instead received saline injections, experienced that dopamine levels tripled, equivalent to a dose of amphetamine in a healthy person.
Researchers also found out that: Patients who think they are taking an expensive drug do better than those who believe they got the cheap one.
The psycho-social context around the patient and the therapy.
When a medical treatment is administered, several sensory and social stimuli, as well as personal beliefs and memories, tell the patient that a therapy is being performed. The whole context constitutes the ritual of the therapeutic act, which is at the very heart of placebo.
Placebos have been used for decades but through different appellations:
Rituals and placebo
Rituals have long been thought to play an important role in the healing processes used by ancient and non-Western healers. Medical rituals, like religious rituals, serve to alter the meaning of an experience by naming and demarcating unknown elements of that experience and by enabling patients’ belief in a treatment and their expectancy of healing from that treatment. These are all critical elements necessary to mobilize the potent placebo effects reported elsewhere to result from doctor-patient interactions.
Faith Healing and miracles
God-men, healers, tantrics, voodoo, witch doctors, magic/black magic, curses, hypno-drama all use the belief and expectations of the adepts as a base of the healing and/or other purposes. The latter are convinced of the genuineness of the process and therefore the brain initiates what happens in the body (such as emotional states), and the body influences what happens in the brain (emotional states affecting the brain in a feedback loop) – though there are exceptions. To unravel mind-body mysteries, we must explore the details of what passes in either direction.
These were incredible findings — testaments to the power of the mind to cure the body with mere suggestion.
It is important to note the limits of these placebos, however. They show the greatest effect on conscious symptoms — like pain, nausea and fatigue. Believing you are receiving chemotherapy, for example, will not shrink a tumor.
The evil twin – nocebo
All over the world the power of suggestion has played a huge part in everybody’s thoughts. … The result of negative hetero suggestion can result in negative patterns of failure, misery, suffering and even sickness.
The Nocebo Effect
Conversely, individuals can experience more symptoms or side effects as a response to a placebo, a response that is sometimes referred to as the “nocebo effect.” For example, a patient might report having headaches, nausea, or dizziness in response to a placebo.
The best example of such nocebo and placebo working against each other is highlighted through this story: http://www.youaretheplacebo.com/victory-over-voodoo/
Trillions of dollars are being generated by unscrupulous industries and individuals by providing ‘miracle’ solutions to common problems which could have been self-treated by our own bodies and minds. Sham surgeries, sugar pills, black magic and the power of negative suggestion all trigger some psyche and soma responses thereby initiating the healing and or destruction from within.
The bottom line
The placebo effect demonstrates how positive thinking can improve treatment outcomes. The nocebo effect suggests that negative thinking may have the opposite effect.
Experts still are not totally sure how the nocebo effect works, but your relationship with your healthcare provider and their communication style likely play a large role.
Placebo and nocebo are two sides of the same coin. It’s your toss!!