Tapping into the healing effect of the placebo.
Western medicine has long viewed the placebo effect as a nuisance, getting in the way of knowing whether a drug is actually effective. But in the past couple of decades a few doctors—perhaps most notably Andrew Weil—have come to the defense of the placebo effect, calling it a low cost, effective method of healing with no toxic side effects.
“I think the placebo response is the greatest ally that a practitioner has,” Dr. Weil has said. “The best kind of medicine is that which elicits the maximum placebo response with a minimum direct impact on the physical body.” Now, reports Joseph Dispenza for Spirituality & Health (March/April 2014, article not online) researchers are investigating just how to do that.
A 2010 study led by Harvard’s Ted Kaptchuk found that placebos can work even when people know they’re taking a placebo. In the study, 40 people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) received a bottle clearly labeled “Placebo Pills.” They were told the placebos had previously calmed other patients’ IBS symptoms through a self-healing process. The other half received nothing, serving as the control group. Three weeks later, the experimental group reported twice as much relief as those who hadn’t received any treatment—a rate comparable to the best IBS drugs currently available.
How did it happen? It’s basically a self-fulfilling prophecy. By taking the placebo—and believing in its effectiveness—we are able to unlock a mind-body connection that triggers the body to heal itself. While the placebo effect certainly needs much more research, one thing is clear: The power of intention, mind, and body is greater than we’ve allowed ourselves to think.