Wonders of the Mind: Healing Through Belief

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What is placebo effect? Research findings demonstrated that there are many health conditions that actually no longer need drugs.

Normally, people resort to over the counter drugs without question as a way to get rid of their sickness or symptoms. Recent findings show, however, that many drugs actually do not cure. It is the belief that taking drugs (the pill) can cure people that brings the healing process to work. The mind works wonders, as healing takes place basically through belief.

Power of the Pill

How did this idea come to light? Through the years, there were many testimonies of people getting cured by quack doctors, after they were considered hopeless cases by conventional medical practitioners. This puzzles doctors and medical researchers alike, who relied so much on the efficacy of modern medicine and the power of the pill. But do pills really cure patients?

Recent laboratory tests and experiments seem to show otherwise. Findings demonstrated that many drugs tested for efficacy did not show any difference with placebo, a sugar-based pill. This is called the Placebo Effect.

When was the Placebo Effect discovered?

The Placebo Effect has its roots a long time ago, during World War II. The medical team supporting the Allied soldiers ran out of morphine, a potent painkiller to alleviate suffering of wounded soldiers. An army nurse, assisting an anesthetist named Henry Becher, lied to a wounded soldier while administering treatment. She assured the soldier that he will be getting morphine when in fact her syringe contained only salt water. The bogus injection amazingly relieved the soldier's agony and prevented the onset of shock. 

What is the Placebo Effect?

The Placebo Effect is the cure or healing experienced by a patient after taking a sugar pill or fake medical treatment. This is largely due to the patient's belief that he can be cured by undergoing such treatment or taking a pill. It is the sum total of of all the psychological benefits patients get from seeing their doctors and taking their pills.

The Placebo Effect arises not only from a conscious belief in a drug but also from subconscious associations between recovery and the experience of being treated—from the pinch of a shot to a doctor’s white coat. This belief can control bodily processes like the body's immune responses where hormones are released. Researchers discovered some of the biology of placebo responses, i.e., the effect achieved using placebo originate from active processes in the brain.

What Benefits were Gained from the Placebo Effect?

In recent decades, placebos have helped alleviate pain, depression, anxiety, Parkinson’s disease, inflammatory disorders and even cancer.This just shows that the expectation of a cure--and the rituals associated with medical treatment--can improve real-world symptoms. According to Kaptchuk, one of the small band of researchers studying the mechanisms behind the mysterious placebo effect, "Our own will, imagination and belief can modulate the course of illness." Mere expectation that a treatment will help, produces lasting effects on symptoms of many diseases. Real changes take place inside patient's brains.

Placebos will never cure cancer or heart disease, but believing in a treatment may ease back pain, improve disease symptoms, alleviate depression or lessen nausea.


Herper, M. and R. Langreth, 2010. The Nothing Cure. Retrieved on May 5, 2010 at http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2010/0329/opinions-placebo-harvard-health-medicine-ideas-opinions.html.

Mercola, 2010. The New Magic that Can Heal You and Has the Drug Companies Running Scared. Retrieved on May 3, 2010 at http://www.foodconsumer.org/newsite/Non-food/Lifestyle/the_new_magic_2404100755.html.

Niemi, M. B., 2009. Placebo Effect: A Cure in the Mind. Retrieved on May 5, 2010 at http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=placebo-effect-a-cure-in-the-mind.

Silberman, S., 2009. Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why. Retrieved on May 5, 2010 at http://www.wired.com/medtech/drugs/magazine/17-09/ff_placebo_effect.


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