Increasing evidence explains the placebo effect
It’s hard to ignore the placebo effect when in clinical drug trials, the placebo group often reports similar or equal improvement as the treatment group. But since no one stands to make money off of placebos, relatively few studies on their efficacy have been done.
When reading stories of how people recover naturally from cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune conditions, it can be difficult to understand how or why they recovered. People report using such varied approaches—including herbal medicine, TMJ adjustments, Qigong, and sound therapy, to name a few—that it’s hard to identify a common denominator.
The common denominator is belief: The belief that you will get better. Yes, you absolutely need to have certain things in place such as a balanced diet, a healthy stress level, and enough exercise and sleep. You must address potential infections, allergens, and toxins. But if you don’t believe that you’re going to get better, you probably won’t.
There’s been enough research on the effect of positive thinking on pain perception that it’s now accepted that a positive attitude can reduce your pain, and vice versa—we’ll talk about this in the next two sections. But new research showing the effect of positive thinking on our immune system function should lead to wider acceptance of how our thoughts affect our health.
A 2016 study showed that when we believe we’re going to get better, our brain’s mesolimbic reward system is activated, triggering the release of dopamine. Researchers focused on the ventral tegmental area (a brain area that plays a key role in regulating dopamine) because stimulating this area improves the antibacterial activity of the immune system. The study found that when the brain’s reward system was stimulated, immune cells destroyed twice as many bacteria.
In 2018, the same group of researchers released a study showing that stimulating the brain’s reward system shrinks cancerous tumors in mice.
Excited doesn’t begin to describe how I feel about the fact that we’re beginning to get some scientific evidence about how our thoughts affect our health. It seems that Western medicine is finally coming around to the reality that drugs are rarely the best solution for chronic health conditions, and that we have an incredible ability to heal ourselves.
If you want to learn more about this topic, here are some books (and one documentary) that I enjoyed:
Heal (available for free with Netflix subscription)
The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton
The Intention Experiment by Lynne McTaggart
The Telomere Effect by Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel
Fighting Parkinson’s…and Winning by Howard Shifke
Beyond Terminal by Chris Collins