Mind Over Medicine – you may have heard about the Placebo Effect – but what about Nocebos?
I’m part way through Lissa Rankin M.D’s new book now on the New York Best Seller list Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.
I’ve been looking forward to this book since I heard it was being published, since I believe that Lissa is one of the visionaries in our world that is here to help heal our broken medical system.
Lissa Rankin is a doctor and OBGYN who gave up her medical practice for a while after suffering from complete physical and spiritual burnout after several years of practice – trying to see 40 patients per day for 7 minutes per patient.
In the first few chapters of Mind Over Medicine Lissa discusses spontaneous remission (when a person gets well through no apparent combination of medical factors) and also the placebo effect (used in medical trials when people think they are being given a form of medicine but receive a sugar pill or substitute instead…yet many still recover or become less unwell).
Did you know that people who respond well to a placebo are often REMOVED from clinical trials?
‘Scuse me while I removed my jaw from the floor when reading this part.
I’ve often wondered to myself why pharmaceutical companies aren’t studying the placebo effect as a route to wellness. Lissa Rankin says in Mind Over Medicine after researching endless medical journals…
The data I was collecting was impressive, and I had to wonder if it might be even more impressive if every effort weren’t made to minimize the placebo effect in clinical trials. If researchers perceived the placebo effect as a positive phenomenon…perhaps we’d see even higher percentages. But that’s not the focus most researchers have. On the contrary, clinical-trial coordinators and medical researchers (mostly employed by pharmaceutical companies) go out of their way to diminish the placebo effect. After all, patients who get better from placebos intefere with a drug’s ability to get approved for market.
To screen out those considered to have ‘excessive placebo responses’ many randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trials of drugs are actually preceded by a ‘washout phase’ in which all participants take an inert pill and anyone who reacts favorably to it is eliminated from the study.
Really? Truly? I was actually laughing in shock when I read that. People who have the power to get well are not to be studied. Wow.
So Positive Beliefs + nurturing care = Healing is NOT a formula that interests pharmaceuticals at all. Guess I kind of knew that already – still harsh when I see it in print though.
And then there’s Nocebos
The Nocebo Effect is something I had heard of, but wasn’t 100% sure that I understood the definition well – until I read Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself, that is.
The theory behind the Nocebo Effect is that we can think ourselves sick, basically – and perhaps even sicker when we are surrounded by others who think of us that way also.
So the formula (according to Lissa) would be Negative Beliefs + Harsh Care = Sickness.
I had heard of this phenomenon during my NLP™ (Neuro-Linguistic Programming™) training with Richard Bandler. He would often tell a story of a woman who came to one of his workshops in a wheelchair.
She had no apparent physical symptoms, but could not walk. Richard Bandler was able to use hypnosis to change her mental State to one where she was able to walk.
Richard related that her reason for the wheelchair was something called ‘secondary gain‘. This woman had a deep overwhelming need to be loved and nurtured, and her body-mind decided that the best way to do this was to be wheelchair bound. Not the greatest solution from all perspectives, but a solution nonetheless.
The Nocebo Effect = if think it makes you sick, it probably will…
Lissa gives many examples of the Nocebo effect from medical studies in Mind Over Medicine…
- Three-quarters of a group thought they were getting an antihistamine but got a placebo – they got drowsy anyway.
- 34 college students told an electrical current would get passed through their heads and they may get headaches – no current – but they got headaches anyway.
- a control group for a new chemotherapy drug were given nothing but saline, told their hair might fall out – 30% lost their hair anyway.
Surgeons are also wary of anyone who believes they might die during surgery or display a lack of will to live. The chances are, the patient might believe themselves into an early death.
Nocebo and Placebo effects – hugely powerful and surely worth more study
If you like the Science, there are plenty of references in the back of Lissa’s book.
Both these effects are surely worth more study and thought by the medical community. The power of personal belief is a tool that can be applied for everybody’s health and well being. We just need to be taught how to use it.