Decades of placebo trials have confirmed the efficacy of various fake or sham treatments in nearly all areas of medicine. Placebos have helped alleviate pain, depression, anxiety, Parkinson’s disease, inflammatory disorders and even cancer. Placebo effects stem not only from a conscious belief in a drug, but also from subconscious associations between recovery and the experience of being treated. Such subliminal conditioning can control bodily processes of which we are unaware, such as immune responses and the release of hormones. For this reason, the placebo effect is sometimes offered as an excellent example of mind over matter.
The word placebo means “i will please” in Latin. In research, a placebo is an inactive substance or procedure used as a control in an experiment. The placebo effect is the measurable, observable, or felt improvement in health not attributable to an actual treatment. When a treatment is based on a known inactive substance like a sugar pill, distilled water, or saline solution rather than having real medical value, a patient may still improve merely because their expectation to do so is so strong. To eliminate this effect of “positive thinking” on clinical trials, researchers often run double-blind, placebo controlled studies. Double blind (or “double-masked”) – playing on the sense “blindfolded” – means neither the participants nor the monitors know which participant are receiving a placebo and which a real medicine. Other facts like dosage may be concealed too. Double-blind trials are thought to produce objective results, since the expectations of the researcher (“observer bias”) and the participant towards the experimental treatment do not affect the outcome.
For a given medical condition, it's not unusual for one-third of patients to feel better in response to treatment with placebo. In short, the more you believe you're going to benefit from a treatment, the more likely it is that you will experience a benefit. Study participants on placebo sometimes complain of side effects too. This is called the “nocebo” effect (latin for “i shall harm”).
The power of suggestion or positive thinking is harnessed in many alternative therapies and is a crucial part of meditative religions like Buddhism to encourage people to self-heal.
In so far as the placebo effect touches on issues of participant attitude, namely optimism, there are some recommendations that can be made which are supported by other research found elsewhere in this book.
» In numerous studies, optimism has been shown to explain between 5-10% of the variation in the likelihood of developing some health conditions including cardiovascular disease, stroke, depression and cancer (source: Wikipedia). Optimists live healthier lifestyles including smoking less, being more physically active, consuming more fruit, vegetables and whole-grain bread, while drinking more moderate amounts of alcohol. To give yourself an anti-aging edge, therefore, if you don’t already, follow these lifestyle choices.
» While scepticism is a healthy thing and important for survival, cynicism isn’t, especially if it triggers long-term pessimism. A 2001 report entitled optimism, pessimism, and psychological Well-Being published by the American Psychological Association, confirmed the assumption that...