The following is an analysis of how the placebo effect (believing you will heal or be healthy) and the nocebo effect (believing that you will suffer some type of harm) work in relation to treatments and drugs.
As several recent studies show, the power of the mind in staying healthy is a phenomenon that can’t be denied.
Jedi mind tricks are a real thing.
Researchers and scientists routinely refer to these psychobiological phenomena as the placebo effect and the nocebo effect. The mind has the ability to control the body. If we trick the mind, we can trick the body and produce real measurable physical reactions.
More than likely you are familiar with the term placebo, Latin origin meaning “I shall please,” but are you familiar with its opposite term “nocebo,” aka “I shall harm”?
The nocebo effect is when a harmless thing causes harm because you believe it to be harmful.
Let me give you an example. A clinical trial is being performed. The participants in the study are divided into three groups, the control, the placebo, and the trial. The intended action of drug(X) is to reduce symptoms and severity of disease(Y). The control group is given no drug in order to track the progression of disease(Y). The placebo group is given a fake drug. And the trial group is given the actual drug(X). The patients are briefed on the possible complications of drug(X). The responses are recorded; data is compared, and analyzed.
There are always some participants in the placebo group that get well because they merely think they are receiving an effective drug. For this reason, science accounts for the placebo effect. The nocebo effect is also recognized and taken into consideration.
An example of the nocebo effect would be participants in the placebo group that were given a fake drug, begin experiencing symptoms they’ll identify as complications of drug(X), which they never actually received.
Another example of the nocebo effect is when the severity of side effects of a drug is magnified by the beliefs, thoughts, and fears of impending harm.
When you start to read the list of side effects of a medication and your stomach instantly churns and your mouth starts to water, as you read “may cause nausea” or “take with food,” these are examples of power the mind has over the body. The frequency of adverse effects increases when patients are informed about possible complications.
According to a 2014 report from Harvard Medical School, inactive sugar pills can cause this “nocebo” effect of unintended harm.
Citing four separate studies on the harmful effects of negative expectations, the following observations were recorded:
-Volunteers were told that a mild electrical current would be passed through their heads and might cause a headache. No electrical current was actually passed, but two-thirds of them developed a headache.
-Asthmatic patients were divided into two separate groups. One patient was given a bronchoconstrictor, which usually makes asthma symptoms worse, and told that it was a bronchodilator, which is typically improves the symptoms. The placebo suggestion reduced their discomfort by nearly 50%. The second group was given a bronchodilator and told it was a bronchoconstrictor. The nocebo suggestion reduced the drug’s effectiveness by nearly 50%.
-The same treatment can work as both a nocebo and a placebo. Experimenters gave subjects who believed they were allergic to various foods an injection they were told contained the allergen. It was only salt water, but it produced allergic symptoms in many of them.
Then the experimenters injected salt water again, this time saying it would neutralize the effect of the previous injection — and in many cases it did.
-An active drug has more nocebo power than a mere sugar pill. In one study, experimental subjects were divided into four groups. The first was given a muscle relaxant, described correctly; the second group was given the same muscle relaxant but told it was a stimulant; the third group received a sugar pill described as a muscle relaxant, and the fourth received the same inert pill described as a stimulant. To no one’s surprise, subjects who thought the pill was a stimulant were more likely to say they felt tense.
But the muscle relaxant caused more reports of tension when described as a stimulant than the sugar pill did. Blood levels of the muscle relaxant were lower in people told it was a stimulant than in those told the truth. They may have absorbed less of the drug because the false information activated the sympathetic nervous system, which slows down movements of the intestinal tract.
(The above is excerpted from the aforementioned 2014 Harvard Medical School blog post)
Placebo heals, nocebo harms
Have you ever said, “I know I’m going to get sick” and you got sick? Words and thoughts are powerful expressions. You can utilize this power to harm or to please. The choice is yours.
Maybe if we all start consciously making collective efforts to be more positive we can diminish the nocebo effect. Our thoughts can make us well and they can make us sick.
I bet you’re beginning to wonder just how effective placebos can be at this point. Well at least 1 out of 3 people in clinical trials experience a placebo effect. This is quite impressive.
A 2014 study published in Science Translational Medicine informed participants that they were getting a placebo to treat their migraines.
Half of those in the placebo group experienced relief. A lot of times, placebos perform just as well if not better than the drug being tested. With stats like that why aren’t we passing out more sugar pills? Are you ready to experience the placebo effect? Instead of taking a fake pill, consciously make decisions every day to adapt new rituals that align with your health goals, and put yourself into a positive mindframe regardless of what’s going on around you.
Creating a “placebo” friendly mindset and routine
Stretch and meditate every day for 30 minutes. Agree to take this time to focus on deep breathing. Ground yourself, focus on your posture, and allow energy to flow freely through you in whatever way you see fit.
Make breathing and movement a priority in whatever ways benefit you the most.
These acts of self love boost your immune system.
What’s going on physically in your body is of the utmost importance, but your mindset and lifestyle may be just as important.
It comes down to the routine, the care given and received. The agreement that you make with your body, the power of your mind and the intention placed into the actions carried out.
Choose a healthy lifestyle, confidence and a strong mind (“placebo effect”) over excess fear, rumination and obsessiveness (the “nocebo” effect), and your health will benefit in more ways than you could ever imagine.