Man is made by his belief. As he believes, so he is.
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
We've all heard of the placebo affect, but what exactly is it and why does it work?
Can our beliefs really change our health, our brain or perhaps our whole reality?
These are certainly interesting questions to ponder.
So what exactly is the "placebo effect"?
Put simply, it is when you are literally tricked into healing yourself. In the gold standard of scientific testing (the double blind randomized control study) patients are divided into 2 groups. One group takes the "real medicine" and the other group (known as the placebo or control group) takes a "sugar pill" which does not contain any pharmacological or chemical agents.
In many cases, people in the control group (who are convinced that they are taking the real pill) get better. In fact, across the board, the placebo has an overall 15% success rate! That's pretty impressive, considering that a 2007 article in the British Medical Journal's "Clinical Evidence" found that after reviewing over 2,500 medical treatments, many reported a mere 13 % success rate. (BMJ, 2007).
The placebo effect is no small or insignificant statistical aberration. In fact, it has been estimated that the placebo cure rate ranges from a low of 15 percent to a high of 72 percent. Additionally, the longer the period of treatment and the more visits to the physician, the greater the placebo effect. In other words, as the patient's belief of the treatment grows, the effectiveness of the "fake treatment" increases as well.
Finally, the placebo effect is not restricted to subjective self-reports of pain, mood, or attitude. Physical changes are real and can be documented. For example, there's a striking new study that's a real game changer. It shows that irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) patients were able to dramatically improve their symptoms by taking placebos-- even though they knew full well that the medication they were given was a placebo, not an active drug. Our brains and bodies are our own biological pharmacy that can mimic the drugs we take on a daily basis. There's evidence to prove it.
Belief can be so strong that pharmaceutical companies not only use double- blind, but also sometimes triple-blind randomized studies to try to exclude the power of the mind over the body when evaluating new drugs.
Your brain is an amazing processing unit, controlling and co-ordinating the 7 trillion cells in your body into a symphony of well-coordinated activity. When your body is balanced and in equilibrium, it is a self-regulating and self-healing mechanism. The placebo effect shows us that a strong belief or faith can initiate this natural healing response, known as the innate intelligence of your body.
In his book, You are the Placebo: Making Your Mind Matter, Dr. Joe Dispenza explores the history and the physiology of the placebo effect as he asks the question:
Is it possible to teach the principles of the placebo, and without relying on any external substance, produce the same internal changes in a person's health and ultimately in his or her life?- Dr. Joe Dispenza
He answers this question with the techniques layed out in his book, and then he shares scientific evidence (including color brain scans) of amazing healings from people who made a concerted effort to change their beliefs and successfully "thought themselves back to health".
Many techniques are discussed, including meditation. Like hypnosis, meditation is a way to bypass the critical mind and move into the subconscious. The whole purpose of meditation is to take your attention off your outer world, your body, and time--and to pay attention to your inner world of thoughts and feelings. In terms of the placebo effect, it takes a similar high degree of suggestibility to be greater than the body and greater than the environment for an extended period of time--that is, to accept, believe, and surrender to the idea of your inner world being more real than your outer world.
Truly intriguing stuff!
The placebo effect will continue to fascinate scientists and patients for years to come and makes for an interesting area of study. The nice thing about the placebo is that it doesn't cost anything and doesn't come with any harmful side effect.
Perhaps our thoughts are more powerful that we realize.
In the words of Mahatma Gandhi:
Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.
― Mahatma Gandhi
ALL FOTOS USED WITH PERMISSION AND LICENSE FROM FOTOLIA.