They can’t ignore it. It’s there. Doctors, patients and pharmaceutical companies can’t escape it. You can’t either. What is it?
The placebo effect.
The placebo effect is the health response patients experience when they believe they’re receiving a drug or surgery but are actually being given dummy drugs or simulated treatments.
Dr. Lissa Rankin writes, “The placebo effect is real, it works about 18-80 percent of the time, and it’s not just in your head – it actually dilates bronchi, heals ulcers, makes warts disappear, drops your blood pressure and even makes bald men who think they’re getting Rogaine grow hair!”
Yet, there’s more.
Since there are two sides to every pancake, let’s also look at the nocebo effect:
Rankin states, “The same mind-body power that can heal you can also harm you… If you tell a patient treated with a placebo he might experience nausea, he’s likely to feel nauseous. If you suggest that he might get a headache, he may. Patients given nothing but saline who thought it was chemotherapy actually threw up and lost their hair!”
How does this happen?
A recent editorial for Global Advances in the Health and Medicine by William Scott included a conversation with Dr. Alex Cahane, an internationally recognized anesthesiologist and pain specialist who leads the Division of Pain Medicine at the University of Washington.
Scott quotes Cahane as saying, “The biomedical model is unlikely to adequately provide an answer to the placebo question: How is it that the patient's belief affects the body? It remains one of the ‘elephants in the room’ that exists in all fields of medicine.”
A pioneer in the mind/health connection in the late 1800s, Mary Baker Eddy, confronted this very question. She experimented with differing healing methods, including homeopathy and the use of placebos.
During her research, Eddy discovered that as medications were diluted by attenuation, patients’ improvements increased. She eventually came to the startling conclusion that drugs and surgeries had no intrinsic abilities to heal on their own. The human mind empowered them both.
And, simply stated, a patient's beliefs, along with others’ thoughts, affected his or her body because life was ultimately mind or consciousness-based.
This revelation led to more questions. Such as:
If expecting health leads you to good health and expecting illness turns you away from good health, is there a rudder that can keep expectations on a straight course, pointed “due” health?
Attempting to answer this question, Eddy’s research went further. The human mind could do marvelous things. However, she learned it was also the cause of most pain and disease.
She eventually concluded, through trial and error, that the needed rudder was the spirit or mind of God (Christ). Her experiments with healing showed her that both the human mind and body are, in the long run, subordinate to the divine.
Since, Eddy’s early research, the acknowledgement of a place for spirituality in health care has been expanding. In 2001, a survey showed that “of the curricula in the 144 medical/osteopathic schools in the United States,” 101 were found to have “courses, classes, and topics (required and elective) in spirituality and health.”
Today, people across the globe are learning about, teaching and utilizing spiritual methods for healing.
A doctor’s diagnosis of an internal kidney deformity closed the door on a friend of mine ever having children. It was explained to Kaye that it would be a threat to her life if she tried to carry a child for nine months.
However, Kaye’s husband, Jim, had a calm way of handling the news. Throughout his life, he had experienced the benefits of relying on the divine for healing.
Motivated by his confidence, Kaye began to read the Scriptures and pray daily. Significant changes took place in her thought. She felt freer of the belief that she was bound by the original diagnosis.
Then during their second year of marriage, Kaye became pregnant. A gynecologist confirmed the sense of freedom she had been feeling. He found no evidence of the deformities previously diagnosed.
Kaye now has three healthy, grown boys. She is quite convinced that spirituality changed her thought, body and life for the better.
The placebo and nocebo questions (elephants) are still in the room. They can’t be ignored. However, many health care professionals are becoming aware that a thought-rudder can steer patients away from harmful beliefs and in a healthier direction.
Keith Wommack is a Syndicated Columnist, Christian Science practitioner and teacher, husband and step-dad. He has been described as a spiritual spur (since every horse needs a little nudge now and then). Keith’s columns originate at: KeithWommack.com