The human mind is an amazing thing. Sometimes, all it needs for there to be a positive health change is 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.
Why Do 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?
Most of the time, when scientists and doctors are talking about the placebo effect, they’re using what’s known as experimental controls to see if a medication really works. For example they may conduct a study into how good some arthritis medication is. Scientists will get a group of people with knee pain, for instance. They’ll then give half of the group the medication, and the other half of the group a placebo that shouldn’t do anything for the pain. Then they will ask about everyone’s pain levels, and whether the participants are in less pain than they were before taking the medication. If the people who had the placebo then report less pain, the scientists will know that the pain pill doesn’t really work.
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 leading Harvard expert, ran a study which proved that placebos worked even when people were told that they would be having a placebo. Pretty amazing, huh?
The Ritual Of Care
It’s all about the ritual of care. This means 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. 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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