Sep 24

The Power and Potential of the Placebo Effect

I have always been interested in the Placebo Effect, which is also called the placebo response.  It is the remarkable phenomenon in which a ‘placebo’, a fake treatment, such as an inactive substance like sugar, distilled water, or saline solution, can sometimes improve a patient’s condition simply because the person has the expectation that it will be helpful. Expectation plays a potent role in the placebo effect. The more a person believes they are going to benefit from a treatment, the more likely it is that they will experience a benefit.  That certainly is worthy of in-depth research don’t you think.  Well someone has done just that.  I have just finished reading Dr. Joe Dispenza’s new book, You Are the Placebo Making Your Mind Matter.  It is a road map for creating personal transformation.  The power of deliberately creating a healing or as don Miguel Ruiz, M.D. and author of The Four Agreements so eloquently states…. “I love this book and look forward to a world where the secret of the placebo is the foundation of everyday life.”  Absolutely…….

In Dr. Dispenza’s Afterword entitled Becoming Supernatural he states with such clarity the power and potential of the Placebo Effect.

“Some critics may categorize this body of work as faith healing.  I’m actually fine with that accusation at this point in my life, because what is faith but when we believe in thought more than anything else?  Isn’t it when we accept a thought–independent of the conditions in our environmnent–and then surrender to the outcome to such a degree that we live as if our prayers were already answered?  Sounds like a formula for the placebo.  We’ve always been the placebo.

“Maybe it’s not so important that we pray rigorously every day to have our prayers answered, but that we instead get up from our meditations as if our prayers have already been answered.  If we accomplish this daily, we are at a level of mind where we’re truly living in the unknown and expecting the unexpected.  And this is when the mysterious knocks on our door.

“The placebo response is about being healed by thought alone.  Thought by itself, however, is unmanifested emotion.  Once we embrace that thought emotionally, it begins to become real–that is, it becomes reality.  A thought without an emotional signature is void of experience and thus it is latent, waiting to be made known from the unknown.  As we initiate a thought into an experience and then into wisdom, we are evolving as human beings.”

placebo in medicine bottle

To separate out this power of positive thinking and some other variables from a drug’s true medical benefits, companies seeking governmental approval of a new treatment often use placebo-controlled drug studies. If patients on the new drug fare significantly better than those taking placebo, the study helps support the conclusion that the medicine is effective.

The power of positive thinking is not a new subject. The Talmud, the ancient compendium of rabbinical thought, states that: “Where there is hope, there is life.” And hope is positive expectation, by another name. The scientific study of the placebo effect is usually dated to the pioneering paper published in 1955 on “The Powerful Placebo” by the anesthesiologist Henry K. Beecher (1904-1976). Beecher concluded that, across the 26 studies he analyzed, an average of 32% of patients responded to placebo.

It has been shown that placebos have measurable physiological effects. They tend to speed up pulse rate, increase blood pressure, and improve reaction speeds, for example, when participants are told they have taken a stimulant. Placebos have the opposite physiological effects when participants are told they have taken a sleep-producing drug.

The placebo effect is part of the human potential to react positively to a healer. A patient’s distress may be relieved by something for which there is no medical basis. A familiar example is a Band-Aid put on a child. It can make the child feel better by its soothing effect, though there is no medical reason it should make the child feel better.

People who receive a placebo may also experience negative effects. They are like side effects with a medication and may include, for example, nausea,diarrhea and constipation. A negative placebo effect has been called the nocebo effect.

 The book is filled with documented examples of the power of the Placebo Effect.

  • Attitude does indeed affect our health.  The Mayo Clinic published a study in 2002 that followed 447 people for more than 30 years showing that optimists were healthier physically and mentally.  Optimists focus their attention on the best future scenario.
  • Yale researchers followed 660 people, aged 50 and older, for up to 23 years, discovering that those with a positive attitude about aging lived more than seven years longer than those who had a more negative outlook about growing older.  Attitude had more of an influence on longevity than blood pressure, cholesterol levels, smoking, body weight, or level of exercise.
  • A 2001 study from the University of Rochester Cancer Center published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management concluded that expecting nausea was the strongest predictor that patients would actually experience it.
  • A 1962 study done in Japan with a group of children who were all extremely allergic to poison ivy helped usher in a new era of scientific study called psychoneuroimmunology, the effect of thoughts and emotions on the immune system.   Researchers rubbed one forearm with a harmless leaf that they claimed was poison ivy.  All the children developed a rash on the arm.  11 of 13 children developed no rash at all where the poison leaf had actually touched them.  The new thought that the leaf wouldn’t hurt them overrode their memory and belief that they were allergic to it.
  • In 1976 Norman Cousins published an account in the New England Journal of Medicine of how he had used laughter to reverse ankylosing spondylitis.  A few years later he published his story in his best-selling book Anatomy of an Illness.  He was convinced that a persistent negative emotional state had contributed to his illness and decided it was equally possible that a more positive emotional state could reverse the damage.  He found that ten minutes of hearty laughter gave him two hours of pain-free sleep.  Eventually, he made a complete recovery.  Cousins, laughed himself to health.  Cousins’s shift of attitude changed his body chemistry, which altered his internal state.  Laughter influences many genes involved with immune response.  As stated by Cousins in 1979 about placebos, “The process works not because of any magic in the tablet, but because the human body is its own best apothecary and because the most successful prescriptions are filled by the body itself.”  Dr. Dispenza goes on to expand on understanding such a miraculous recovery. “….research now tell us it’s likely that epigenetic processes were at work.  Cousin’s shift of attitude changed his body chemistry, which altered his internal state, enabling him tp program new genes in new ways; he simply turned off the genes that were causing his illness.”

Dr. Dispenza explains in detail the process of turning genes off that are responsible for illness.

Ponder this; people with multiple personality disorder have physical differences with the different personalities.

According to the National Alliance on  Mental Illness

Dissociative identity disorder (DID), previously referred to as multiple personality disorder, is a dissociative disorder involving a disturbance of identity in which two or more separate and distinct personality states (or identities) control an individual’s behavior at different times. When under the control of one identity, a person is usually unable to remember some of the events that occurred while other personalities were in control. The different identities, referred to as alters, may exhibit differences in speech, mannerisms, attitudes, thoughts and gender orientation. The alters may even present physical differences, such as allergies, right-or-left handedness or the need for eyeglass prescriptions. These differences between alters are often quite striking.”  This demonstrates the changes that occur due to changes in attitudes and thoughts.  

Part of Dr. Dispenza’s work involves “the scientific model of transformation”.  He lays out quantum physics to help with understanding the importance in possibility, combines it with the latest information in neuroscience, neuroendocrinology, epigenetics, cellular biology, brain-wave science, energy psychology and psychoneuroimmunology.  All of this contributes to applying the knowledge to create a new experience being you.


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