January 3, 2013 § 3 Comments
Most people have heard about placebo. It’s how a treatment can positively affect a patient even though it’s “supposed” to have no real effect. Some people have heard about the reverse effect, the nocebo, which is the opposite. It is when something that’s supposed to have no effect actually has a negative effect on the person. However, have people really considered the implications of these, scientifically proven, facts? I dare say no. This is something that I would like to call Placebo 2.0.
What do I mean with Placebo 2.0? First we have to establish what “normal” placebo is, or Placebo 1.0, and how it is used. As most people know already, it is a positive effect that isn’t supposed to happen according to our understanding of the body and medicine. And so what we do is that we give people all of these different kinds of sugar pills or fake treatments and see which ones are having an effect and if so how much and how does it compare to other so-called “real” medicine. Some people even go so far as to say that it is because we expect a positive effect that a positive effect actually happens. But usually the discussion does not go much further than this. There is some discussion about nocebo as well, in a very similar fashion. For example if you give a patient a placebo and tell them it’s chemo, many of them will actually vomit and lose their hair!
But what does this really mean and what are the real implications on medical science and our understanding of our body and illness in general? This is what I mean with Placebo 2.0. We have to stop thinking of our bodies as machines and expecting all of them to respond the same way to the same thing. This goes far beyond medicine, including subjects such as food/diet, exercise, injuries, life expectancy and so on. Basically anything to do with our bodies and how our mind can play a huge role in both helping and hurting the body’s natural process of healing itself. This will also give us a much grander understanding of our mind and all of its wonders.
Basically we have to start taking the mind into the calculations. If you introduce a treatment to a patient saying things like “This will give you severe side effects.” and then bring in several bags of drugs labeled “POISON” in huge red letters while the nurses wear protective masks and gloves so they won’t risk coming in contact with anything in those bags. And then actually inject this POISON into the patient’s veins, what do you expect to happen? Especially if the patient is already in a very bad mental state and is severely depressed because of the diagnosis and feeling very pessimistic about the whole situation, because, who wouldn’t, right? Ignoring the physical effects of such a treatment, what do you think the mental repercussions of this are? And, understanding the basics of placebo and nocebo, how do you think this affects the body? Pretty damn badly, right? But how come this isn’t taken into account when designing treatments? Or when doing the statistics about who makes it and who doesn’t? Thankfully there is some research being done in the area, but this deserves way more attention than it’s getting!
Why are some people getting almost every side-effect possible from a certain treatment, and some get almost none at all? According to leading edge research, it’s all in your expectations. And your expectations are just a result of your thoughts about the subject. But obviously you can’t think “I believe I will not get any side-effects from this” while maintaining a disbelief with your words, and get any different results than what you really expect. You can’t fool yourself! This is a big part of understanding Placebo 2.0.
This ties in very well with a previous post of mine called “The value of feeling good” which talks about how feeling good can actually help heal the body (among other things) as well as some methods you can use that are scientifically proven to help you feel better. This ties in because who feels good trying to force on a belief that doesn’t resonate with your current belief? However, if you really believed you wouldn’t get any side-effects, wouldn’t you feel great? At least until a doctor tried to convince you otherwise, right? And that’s how a doctor(or a well-meaning friend) can actually be a nocebo. This and much more is discussed in a TED-talk by Lissa Rankin that you can watch here:
I highly recommend it, especially if you are interested in a quick review of the latest research on the subject.
The knowledge that comes with Placebo 2.0 can be used in both big things and small things. Anything from stage 4 cancer to a cold or a strained ankle. And all of the things in between. What is your belief? Do you believe you have to go through this treatment in order to heal it, or do you believe your body can do it with just a little bit of help and rest? And then just follow the logical conclusions of your belief.
Another way would be to change your belief into one that suits you better, but this can be really tricky and is very difficult for me to describe in words, but has been done in many different cases, including stage 4 cancer, on the brink of death. One example of this and what she has learned from it is described in a wonderful book by Anita Moorjani called “Dying to be me”. For example here or just google her and watch an interview with her to get an idea of what she has to say. I might do a full post on just that book in the future, but this will be it for now. I hope you’ve learned something :)