Interested in a quick and fascinating read? Check-out the first few paragraphs of this Saturday Evening Post article I read last week:
Placebo PowerBy Sharon Begley – January/February 2013
Maybe you have comforted a crying child by kissing her scraped knee to “make it all better”—and seen her tears turn to a smile and the pain recede. Perhaps you’ve stumbled to the medicine cabinet, half-asleep at 2 a.m., taken an acetaminophen for the headache that woke you, felt better—and discovered in the morning that you had actually taken a calcium pill.
Or maybe you took your arthritic knee to a hospital where you were prepped for arthroscopic surgery, wheeled into the operating room, and had a completely fake procedure in which the surgeon made a few incisions but did not remove the cartilage whose deterioration causes osteoarthritis—after which you had less pain and were walking better than you had in years.
Okay, you have probably never experienced the last one. But scores of patients with osteoarthritis of the knee did. They volunteered for one of the more astounding medical studies in recent years, in which researchers performed true arthroscopic surgery on some volunteers, flushing out the joint and removing cartilage, and sham surgery on others. The sham surgery is a form of placebo, an intervention that has no physical effect (inert sugar pills are the best-known placebos). In the groundbreaking study, when patients with osteoarthritis of the knee merely thought they had received arthroscopic surgery the intensity, frequency, and duration of their knee pain diminished as much as in patients who actually received the highly touted $5,000 procedure.
It is tempting to say that “mere thought” or “mere belief” caused these patients to feel and function better, just as the child’s trust in her mother made her knee feel better and our belief that little white pills will relieve a headache made the calcium tablet do so, even though it contained not a speck of headache-fighting medication. But if doctors and scientists have learned one thing about the placebo response or placebo effect, it is this: There is nothing “mere” about how thoughts, beliefs, and the power of the mind affect the body…
Intrigued? I was! Ms Begley has been given the opportunity to spend a lot of time researching the placebo effectfor her well written article. She gives examples of a number of different reasons that scientists think placebos work, including relieving pain by activating the brain’s natural painkillers and through conditioned responses.
Jon Stoessl of the University of British Columbia is quoted in the article as saying,“The placebo effect is real, it’s huge and it’s got a physiological basis.”
I recommend that you read “Placebo Power.” In a time when many fear the strength and addictive properties of pain meds, any safe, drug free alternative is worth serious consideration. If fooling a cancer patient’s mind into thinking their disease or treatment is less painful can help, why not?
Here is a link to Ms Begley’s Saturday Evening Post article if you would like to give it a look:
Feel good and keep smiling! Pat