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The Placebo Effect
The Placebo Effect
Placebos first came to the general public’s attention in the 1950s. It was discovered that patients who were given harmless sugar pills and told they were medicine would often report themselves cured. In an influential article first published in 1955, Harvard researcher Henry Beecher concluded that between 30 and 40 percent of any treated group would respond to a placebo. Remarkably, it’s not unheard of for placebo effects to exceed those of the normally prescribed treatment. The implications of this are staggering.
A fascinating twelve-month experiment reported in the Archives of General Psychiatry reveals the power of mind/body medicine and the placebo effect. In the experiment, Parkinson's disease patients underwent a surgical procedure that transplanted human neurons into their brains. But half the patients had no neurons transplanted whatsoever and were merely told by their doctor that the neurons had been transplanted.
Even those patients who received the sham operation showed significant improvements in brain and body function a full twelve months later. In other words, they didn't even have the surgery, but they thought they did. So their bodies responded and self healing kicked in.
Now here's the bigger story on all this: mind/body medicine is real. A proper patient belief system can overcome practically any disease. Yet modern medicine utterly dismisses the idea that mind/body medicine can work at all. The "placebo effect" is too often discarded rather than exploited. If doctors could use the leverage of the placebo effect and actually give their patients hope, together they could overcome almost any illness. But instead, too many doctors and surgeons destroy patients' belief in the placebo effect and fill their minds with frightening statistics like, "You only have a one in three chance of surviving this operation." That's horrifying to patients, and as it turns out, it actually increases the chance that the patient will die during the operation.
If you take a hard look at the tens of thousands of clinical trials involving prescription drugs, surgical procedures, and various forms of therapy carried out over the last hundred years, you'll find that no drug and no surgery comes even close to the power of the placebo. In a very matter-of-fact, scientific way, the placebo effect has been proven to be the single most effective healing tool anywhere. The studies prove it: the placebo effect cures approximately 30% of everything -- any disease, any illness, or any unwanted symptom. It does this at no cost, with no side effects, and primarily by leveraging the innate healing ability of the human mind. Amazingly, even while the proof of this is right under their noses, western doctors and surgeons somehow manage to dismiss the phenomenon as hocus pocus. They don't believe it because they don't understand it, not because there isn't a mountain of good science to back it up (because there is!).
All this brings us to an even larger picture: modern medicine really isn't about good science as is amusingly insisted by its captains. Rather, modern (western) medicine is a dogmatic system of beliefs and so-called "scientific truths" that are based more on shared professional illusions than reality. Modern medicine can, in fact, be properly described as a system of mass hysteria where things are accepted as true just because enough people say they are. Like all such systems, this one is aggressively defended: when evidence surfaces that challenges the present dogma, the medical journals, researchers and doctors dismiss it all as mumbo jumbo. That's how they protect the existing dogma of western medicine: throw out all the evidence that contradicts what "they know to be true" and publish all the evidence that agrees with it.
In a sad but very real way, the science of medicine only advances when the holders of the so-called "truths" of medicine pass away. Only then is there room for new beliefs, from new, younger doctors who ask new questions. I'm talking about questions like, "Hey, if the placebo effect helps 30% of all patients with no side effects and zero cost, why don't we look into actually using it to help people heal?" That's a reasonable question, don't you think? But it's probably blasphemy to your doctor. The very idea that the mind should play a role in healing probably goes against their religion.
Thankfully, we're starting to see the trend shift. With new studies being undertaken like the one mentioned here, we move closer to a system of medicine that finally acknowledges the all-important role of the mind of the patient. Truly, no healing is possible unless the mind and belief systems of the patient are aligned with the goal of a positive health outcome. All the prescription drugs and surgery in the world can't overcome even one simple belief firmly held in the mind of a patient. Neither can any disease resist the healing potential of that same mind. It's time we start honoring the human mind as the ultimate tool of healing.
Nowadays, in our so-called sophistication and understanding of human biochemistry and genetics, the proliferation on new wonder drugs is epidemic. This, coupled with dazzling new surgical techniques, causes us to feel medicine has left the dark ages, but maybe not. In the year 2100, how many of today’s drugs will still be in use? Perhaps we will have evolved to where alternative and natural, non-invasive methods will be commonplace. Perhaps in a hundred years surgery will be considered a last, rather than a first resort. Let’s be honest: when you go to a medical practitioner today, the method of treatment in 95 percent of cases is drugs and/or surgery.
While I am not advocating throwing away your pills and refusing surgery when it’s necessary, I am advocating a whole new look at how the body-mind relationship works. I’m suggesting that you learn to trust this relationship, and that you use the wonderful healing power of your mind to both prevent and cure illness.
We have enough proof that the mind heals; now what is required is the courage and discipline to use it.
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