Placebo's and the mind body connection are one of medicine's hot topics right now. It's so popular it was even the subject of last night's hour long BBC horizon documentary. This is really exciting for me as it's a field I've been researching into for the last three decades. In that time I've stumbled across some really fascinating bits of research that make you think about life and health very differently.
For instance did you know in the drugs trial where you compare the effects of receiving chemotherapy to taking a placebo (a dummy pill), as you might expect over 90% of people taking real chemotherapy lose all their body hair. But what may surprise you is that 30% of people taking the 'pretend chemotherapy', which contains no active drugs, also lose all their body hair.
Even colour can make a difference; if you give pills, placebo or real, which are coloured red they tend to be very good for pain relief, and on the whole, blue pills are very good for relaxation, except in Italy where, when given to men, they seem to increase virility and excitement - possibly due to the fact that the Italian football team plays in blue.
There have even been a number of research projects which compared surgery, on hearts, back and knees, to 'pretend surgery' (anaesthetic was given, incisions were made but no procedures were performed). In each case they found both pretend and real surgery got similar results!
But what's going on here? How can pills that contain absolutely nothing make our hair fall out or pretend surgery make a difference and how can a colour change your response to a drug? Well this is the amazing power of the mind body connection at work. In the past the mind body connection was seen to be something of a annoyance in medical science, as it make result more difficult to interpret, but now there seems to be a shift in medical science, as it starts to catch up with what many people have thought for a long time which is the mind body connection might be the greatest medicine we have.
The power of the mind body connection
And then the important question is 'how do we use it?' as we clearly don't be taking pretend pills or fake surgery in order to stimulate the mind body connection.
I've spent a long time looking into this question and have created a number of programs, including the Lightning Process, which helps people to do just this. I'd like to share some top tips with you from my and other's research that you can use to make simple and effective change to yourself.
In 2011 Deiner and Chan published some fascinating figures: they found there is a massive link between happiness and health and longevity. In fact if you're happy you will on average have an extra 10 years of life compared to your less happy friends. Interestingly, 10 years is about how much smoking costs us -and we know how significant smoking is as a health threat... when you also consider the very recent research that shows that loneliness is twice as big as a health risk as obesity, it's clear there are some simple things we can do that will make difference to our health and well-being and happiness.
Top tips for the using mind body connection
1. Start making a positive impact on your health by spending more time with friends. This will aid happiness and connectedness.
2. Focus up on what is great about your life. In the happiness and health study, the participant's happiness wasn't determined by great their life was, or how successful they were; it was determined by whether they were focusing on the things that made then sad, or the things that made them happy.
3. Be nice to yourself; kindness and compassion produce very positive changes in your brain and body chemistry
There is so much more you can do too, I'll cover them in future blogs, but if you start just using the simple steps you will be making use of the most powerful medicine known to science - your mind body connection.
You watch the BBC documentary here on iplayer
Phil Parker is a PhD researcher in Health Psychology, an osteopath, a world-renowned NLP coach, the originator the Lightning Process and the author of 4 books.