Your mind can sometimes work in a mysterious way to influence your health. Of greater interest is the fact that such conditioning effect of mind can work to either positively (known as placebo effect) or negatively (known as nocebo effect) affect your health. It may seem a little far-fetched, but this has been widely reported by many clinical and scientific studies.
For instance, you’ve probably already heard of patients showing improvement in their disease conditions after being given only placebo (a tablet, pill or injection that contains no active substance that can affect health). These patients were generally not aware that they were receiving placebo and believed that they were given treatment meant to make them better! Such phenomenon is so significant that pharmaceutical companies are required to take the placebo effect into account when measuring the actual positive effects of their medicines during clinical trials.
Nocebo effect is the flip side of the placebo effect i.e. patients experienced actual negative symptoms when given dummy treatments (placebo) all because they were told to expect the side effects (pain, nausea and vomiting, weakness, diarrhea etc) of the treatment. Likewise, there was also reports of patients succumbing to diseases which they were wrongly diagnosed with. This may sound a little extreme but there was a documented case of a patient who was misdiagnosed with an advanced metastatic (wide-spreading) cancer who died soon after. The patient, his family and the attending physician all believed he was in the terminal stage of the disease. Nevertheless, an autopsy later revealed that he only had a small cancer mass in his liver which should not have killed him this fast!
How did that happen? We don’t have a full explanation for this yet although there are many hypotheses put forth by scientists. Nevertheless, it has been suggested that our thoughts and beliefs can have significant influence on the health state as well as the neurochemical, hormonal and immunological responses in our body. Where positive beliefs can give true therapeutic response, negative expectations can lead to the worsening of health state as well.
So what does this tell us? Our minds are more powerful than we thought. Remember to stay positive at all times and ditch the negative thoughts!
Mind you! Please don’t take this article the wrong way. You should not stop taking your pills and expect your mind alone to confer the placebo effect to heal your illness! Instead, please make sure to take your medicines as prescribed in addition to having faith that the treatment will work. You never know how much the added optimism may help you in achieving a better treatment outcome. Do not underestimate the power of positivity in life!
- Meador CK. Hex death: voodoo magic or persuasion? South Med J. 1992;85(3):244-7
- Požgain et al. Placebo and Nocebo effect: A mini review. Psychiatria Danubina, 2014; Vol. 26, No. 2, pp 100-107
- Raz et al. Placebos in Medicine: Knowledge, Beliefs, and Patterns of Use. Mcgill J Med. 2008; 11(2): 206–211.