The placebo effect is one of the most important clinical observations that cannot be explained by the conventional medical model. Many clinical scientists have tried to deal with this outlying phenomenon by discounting it, ignoring it, subtracting it out of their data and other machinations (http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674669864) But if conventional medicine cannot explain the placebo effect, it can at least quantify it and learn to harness it for good.
In a recent article (http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/6/218/218ra5.full.pdf) researchers compared placebo to 10 mg of rizatriptan (Maxalt) in migraine headache. They compared the results from seven different scenarios. The first was the pain levels for a headache with no treatment as a baseline. The other six were a placebo labeled as either a 1)placebo, 2)50:50 chance of placebo or medicine and 3) 100% chance of medicine. And Maxalt was similarly labeled as 4) placebo, 5) 50:50 chance of placebo or medicine or 6) 100% chance of medicine.
They found some interesting results. First, placebo accurately labeled as a placebo still offered some pain relief compared to no treatment. Second, placebo labeled as 100% chance of Maxalt gave the same pain relief as Maxalt labeled as placebo. Interestingly, the best pain relief was in the scenario of Maxalt labeled as 50:50 chance of placebo or medication, though not statistically significantly different from Maxalt labeled as Maxalt. The take-home message? The patient’s expectations not only made the placebo work better but also the made the Maxalt work worse. Beliefs are self-fulfilling prophesies. People who believe that medications are poison are helping to create that experience for themselves.
Here is one way you can put this information to work for you. Real holistic medicine is inclusive, not exclusive. Real holistic medicine includes conventional medicine. Sometimes the power of pharmaceuticals and surgery comes in handy. If you are ever in a position where you need to take medications, you might as well get the most benefit and least harm from them. Years ago, I came up with this visualization that has helped many of my patients and I want to share it with you. I was working with a woman who said she was allergic to just about every antibiotic she had ever taken. At that time, she was having a severe sinus infection that was not responding to nasal saline irrigation, steaming with essential oils, antibiotic herbs, immune boosters or anything else we were trying. She did not want to see an ENT for surgery.
So I thought about it for a minute and said to her, “Do you know what it takes to get a medication approved for sale in the US? It takes literally millions of hours of people’s time and effort. And most of the people who work developing and testing new drugs, except perhaps for the top executives of drug companies who are actively manipulating the market, medical education, the practice of science, legislation and anything else they can get their hands on to increase their profits, are doing so because they honestly believe that their efforts will help someone somewhere. That means that that little pill represents literally millions of hours of people’s good will aimed at you. Hold it in your hand for a moment, give thanks to all those hard-working, caring people with your mind’s voice, swallow the pill and see it going to wherever in your body you need it to go, doing what it needs to do to help you and leaving the rest of your body alone.” She agreed to give it a try. I wrote her a prescription for an antibiotic, she took it, got better and had no allergic reactions or other side effects.
Since then, I’ve seen this visualization help people tolerate chemotherapy better, not get usual side effects from opiates, blood pressure meds, antidepressants and such. You have a powerful mind. Learn how to use it to help yourself heal, increase your happiness and decrease your limitations.
“If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you’re right.” –Henry Ford