The human mind is an amazing thing. Sometimes, all it takes for us to experience a positive health change is for our minds to be convinced that something good is going to happen. In other words, tricking our minds into thinking we’re being healed can help heal us. This is the placebo effect. 

But, What Are Placebos and Why Do They Work? 

A placebo is any substance or treatment that has no therapeutic or medicinal effect, but is administered to a patient or participant in a clinical trial as if it were a real treatment. As for how placebos work, well, that’s a question scientists all over the world are still pondering. We do know that a placebo cannot cure a chronic physical condition, but it can help with problems of perception. For instance, placebos can help with issues like pain or mood. They involve complex neurobiological reactions that can heal us, and these reactions happen simply because our brains think that healing is taking place. Bit of a mind-bender, right?

How Are Placebos Used?

Placebos are often used for medical research and scientific purposes. When scientists and doctors mention the placebo effect, they’re talking about using what are known as experimental controls to see the effects of a medication, or if it really works. For example, scientists working in a research center may conduct a study into how effective a particular arthritis medication is. Firstly, the scientists will organize a group of people with knee pain, for instance, as a result of arthritis. They’ll then give half of the group the medication and give the other half of the group, also known as the control group, a placebo that shouldn’t do anything for the pain. Usually, neither group will be told whether they received the active treatment or the placebo. The pain levels of every participant after a certain period of time will be documented, and all of the participants will be asked if they are in less pain than they were before taking the medication. If anybody from the group of people who took the placebo reports that their pain levels have improved, the scientists will know that the medication is ineffectual, and that the placebo effect is more than likely the reason for their reduced pain. 

So, What Does This Mean For Personal Health?

While placebos are mostly used in research, there are some scientists out there looking at their potential therapeutic benefits. Ted Kaptchuk, a professor of medicine and leading Harvard expert, ran a study that proved that placebos worked, even when people were told that they would be having a placebo. The findings of this study highlight the huge contribution that the ritual of care offers to the phenomenon that is the placebo effect.

The Ritual Of Care

The ritual of care refers the simple act of being cared for. For example, if we’re in a hospital and we feel like the doctors are helping us, that in itself can often make us feel better. And it goes even further than that, as even self-help can serve as a placebo. So, if we work out, eat well, meditate, and do any number of activities to look after ourselves, our brains can improve our wellbeing purely because we think it’s going to help. The power of belief should never be underestimated!

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