What are the Placebo and Nocebo effects blog post, Find My Energy

Placebo and Nocebo Effect

What do you think you know about the placebo and nocebo effect?

You might have heard of heard of the terms, placebo and nocebo effect – or you might not. Well, this blog post is going to explore what they really mean.

Why is that relevant to you? In a recent post (follow this link to read the post), I talked about the basic pillars for healing (or staying healthy). One of those is linked to your emotional and mental environment. Now, that’s a huge topic which we’ll keep coming back to explore. But the placebo and nocebo effects are a powerful tool that you can use to help you… Or to self-sabotage. So, let’s explore…

What are the placebo and nocebo effects?

If you have heard of these terms, then you may have heard about placebos in the context of drugs or medical treatments. Perhaps a phrase like, “oh, that’s just the placebo effect.”

Quite often, this is used to suggest that a treatment, or drug, is worthless. What the term implies is that the drug/treatment itself is doing nothing. And any positive changes observed by the patient or doctor are either imagined, or coincidence, or unrelated.

Many people see this term as dismissive, almost an insult to the treatment. It certainly can be used that way. However, were you aware that it is also a “thing”?

The Placebo effect in drug trials

Thorough scientific research will need to account for the placebo effect. That’s why scientists conduct double-blind trials.

Such a trial would mean that the patients are split into groups. One group will receive the actual drug/treatment. The other group will receive a dummy drug/treatment that couldn’t possibly affect any change on the body (for example, a sugar pill).

Neither the patient, nor the doctor, nor those analysing the results, will be told who is receiving which type. That way, there can be no danger of the patients’ or doctor’s beliefs affecting the results they report.

Those of you with a curious mind might be asking something here. If the Placebo is an imagined outcome, then why would we need to make sure we account for its possibility in drug trials?

Well, for many decades, some scientists have been asking that very question. These researchers have been conducting studies into the Placebo effect and asking, “is this real? Can the mind actually change the biology of the body?”

How powerful is your mind?

The answer appears to be “yes.” We have multiple studies showing statistically significant results demonstrating that what a patient believes can actually change their biology. (If you are interested in the research, then I invite you to explore further: pubmed is a good place to start. Follow this link to find it: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/)

If you feel a little sceptical about this, it’s not as crazy as it seems. You can try a little experiment for yourself right now.

A quick, fun experiment

Pause a moment, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, then start noticing what is happening in your body. Do you feel any tension anywhere? Are you relaxed? How is your beathing – fast/slow, shallow/deep? Just notice these things.

Then, start to think about a situation that really scares you. It could be something like public speaking. Whatever you pick doesn’t matter. I want you to close your eyes and really imagine that situation in detail. If you’re using the example of public speaking, then picture yourself standing in front of a crowd of thousands, all staring at you, waiting for you to open your mouth and say something. Now, observe your body again. What has happened? Do you feel relaxed? How is your breathing now?

You can try the same experiment, but this time thinking about something beautiful. Pick a special memory. Notice what happens in your body when you immerse yourself in that image.

Now, if you are noticing things like changes in your breath, signs of panic – or relaxation – these are biological changes. If you had access to some scientific equipment in your home, you could measure these changes. But remember this: your body hasn’t moved from its comfortable spot in your chair (or wherever you happen to be). You haven’t subjected it to any physical experience that could make it feel anxious or safe. Its reaction is coming from what is happening in your mind.

And, if this idea intrigues you, I invite you to take a look at this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdxlT68ygt8

The Nocebo Effect

So, if we’re exploring the possibility that your mind can change your biology, what about the other side of the coin? If the Placebo effect means you could use positive thinking to affect positive changes in your biology, what about the Nocebo effect?

Well, it turns out, believing that something is making you sick can…actually make you sick! Unbelievably, even to the point of killing you!

In 2011, Penny Sarchet won the Wellcome Trust’s winning science writing essay with her research into the Nocebo effect. (You can read a summary article at this link) The most extreme case she documented was reported in the Southern Medical Journal in 1992. It detailed the case of a man who, in 1973, was given a diagnosis of cancer and told he had just months to live. A few months after the diagnosis, he died, as predicted. However, the autopsy carried out after his death, revealed that the cancer on his liver hadn’t grown. His medical doctor didn’t believe the cancer had killed him, but speculated that perhaps his belief that he was going to die had led to the outcome.

Not another “happy-clappy” idea…!

Why am I telling you about the placebo and nocebo effect? Am I suggesting that you made your illness up? No. Am I suggesting that you just need to “think positive thoughts” in order to get better. No – that certainly never worked for me!

You might have heard people telling you to chant positive affirmations or something similar. Well, I’m not telling you to do that either.

I simply want you to be aware that your mind has a great impact on your body. If you want to create a supportive environment for recovery, then you need to create an environment in which everything is in coherence. What does that mean?

Well, imagine you identify that your body is lacking in vitamin D. If you sit there, in the dark, simply thinking, “I am producing Vitamin D”, I doubt that will change your levels. You need to actually be taking a Vitamin D supplement, or (better still) getting exposure to sunlight so that your body can produce Vitamin D.

On the other hand, if you’re taking your Vitamin D supplement and also utterly convinced that it will do nothing for you and can’t possibly contain any Vitamin D, your body and mind are not in alignment. This may be a bad example – I have no research to back up this specific situation, but maybe we could try some…

The point is, we create coherence through taking physical action with the body, and also understanding or supporting the benefits of that action in our mind. The greater the coherence, the greater the benefits.

What can you do?

Start being aware of your thoughts. How positive – or negative – are they? I’m not inviting you to deny your experience…if you feel rubbish, acknowledge that, but can you also acknowledge, “this too shall pass”?

And, if you already know about the research into the placebo and nocebo effects, and you’re already using that knowledge, then bravo…keep it up!

Want to find out what else might be blocking your recovery? Take a free bioenergetic health scan to find out now. Follow this link to get started!


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