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The Power of the Placebo — Is Healing All in Our Mind?

A recent survey of doctors from the U.S. finds that nearly two out of three believe it is permissible to use placebos, and one out of two U.S. doctors prescribe placebos to their patients. Surveys of physicians in Israel, Denmark, and Great Britain reveal similar findings. This research, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), has prompted well-known author Sally Satel, M.D., to comment on a recent Op/Ed page of the Wall Street Journal that the extent of the use of placebos is “disquieting, even unethical.”
However, when recent studies revealed that prescription anti-depressants worked only as well as placebos, the Wall Street Journal reported on the efforts of pharmaceutical companies to “harness placebos” as part of their current research and development.
Studies have indicated that placebos are effective up to 70% of the time. A review of many prescription drugs reveal efficacy rates much lower than that of the placebo. The practice of medicine in the U.S. is often prescription- and procedure-driven. Placebos provide an opportunity to integrate the mind-body connection into the practice of medicine, and to harness its health benefits.
“Alternative” systems of healthcare like Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda have thousands of years of time-tested use compared to the relatively young allopathic medicine (less than 100 years old). These systems of healthcare (not disease care) focus on health as a balance of physical, emotional, and spiritual health. As Dr. Satel points out, “Physicians who use placebos carefully recognize that the practical value of faith must neither be underestimated nor dismissed….If patients suffer less…it is worth finding out.”
Integrative medicine has been dismissed time and again as “the placebo response.” Chelation? Oh, it’s just a placebo. Homeopathy? Again, it’s just a placebo. Yet patients now flock to the doors of integrative physicians who brave the ire of their state medical boards to offer health programs based upon natural approaches and physical, emotional, and spiritual balance. They know that the mind-body connection is vital to a patient’s health. Treating patients by merely “following the numbers” of cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, and PSA readings, appears to be significantly less effective and fails the test of scientific scrutiny more often than does a more holistic, integrative approach.
The recent discussion in the November 2008 issue of Consumer Reports on Health by a professor at the Massey Cancer Center at Virginia Commonwealth University mentioned the use of “palliative chemotherapy.” This means chemotherapy not to cure but to appear to cure. That is disconcerting at best, given the extreme potential toxicity of chemotherapy.
Before even thinking about using poisons such as chemotherapy as a placebo, we should read the Institute of Noetic Sciences’s Spontaneous Remission, an Annotated Bibliography. This is a humbling tribute to what we have yet to learn. No wonder millions of Americans seek the advice and counsel of integrative physicians who are open to learning new science and new ways to harness the body’s ability to heal itself.

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4 thoughts on “The Power of the Placebo — Is Healing All in Our Mind?

  • You must know by now, your piece goes to the core of the issue. Your lucidity leaves me wanting to know more. Just so you know, i will forthwith grab your feed to keep up to date with your site. Saying thanks is simply my little way of saying great job for a marvellous resource. Take On my dearest wishes for your incoming article.

  • Mike Stafford

    Oh my, yes – The Placebo Effect. Science’s latest gift to humanity…can’t explain it, can’t predict it, can’t quantify it. But, they are sure it’s real – like electricity, gravity, light, quantum phenomena at their most esoteric level. Yet, the placebo principle has been around forever, being utilized by people in every sphere of life – for good and not-so-good. They are coming to know it is a mental exercise that produces changes and results in relationships of matter and energy that are tangible. A sort of mental E = mc2. In health matters they document the changes with tests, physical examinations and statistics…but can’t explain what happens.
    Well, Jesus Christ taught this law in Mark 11: 23 – 24. It isn’t wishing, isn’t hoping, not just words and ideas bouncing around in our skulls but is focussed intentional concentration on a desired and needed objective. It’s like the difference between diffused light and a laser. It is the Law of Believing and God set it up. It works best and most assuredly when operated in accord with appropiate passages from the scriptures, His Words and Ideas. He can be counted on to respond to the things He had people write for posterity. The more you know from The Book the better it works. The more you use it, like a muscle, the better facility you develop. Become a Christian and try it.

  • If healing is all in your head and a placebo affect….why do animals get well. I have saved 90 percent of the animals I have used alternative medicine on including a litter of puppies with parvo years ago. Animals don’t have the faintest idea on what you are giving them…but they get well.
    So the placebo affect discussion is right out the door. Animals are great for herbal medicine, they have no blocks to getting well. kate Clifton, the herbaldyisin I might add they don’t do drugs, coffee, or fast food. They get lots of exercise usually and they never have to be pushed to drink water. They don’t do most of the things us humans do to hurt their body or their mind. They usually forgive their masters, they love even when it isn’t warranted and they are loyal.
    Anger, suppressed pain, and guilt all are factors which keep us from healing as we should. That is what is wrong with modern medicine in the US. They do not take into consideration, the emotion and blocks by the mind to being healed, whether it be standard or alternative.

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