Countless studies of the placebo effect have shown that the mind may be the most important factor in human body function. With the ability to create or delete symptoms in an instant, tapping into this healing power only requires belief.
Innumerable examples throughout history and today document the power of the mind for healing. The first placebo trial was in 1801, according to "Placebos and Placebo Effects in Medicine: Historical Overview", by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (JRSM). John Haygarth, an eighteenth century British physician, stated that the experiment “clearly prove[d] what wonderful effects the passions of hope and faith, excited by mere imagination, can produce on disease.”
Toward the end of the 1950s, it was believed that surgically tying the mammary artery could alleviate heart disease. To test for placebo, some patients received complete surgeries while others received skin incisions, but no further surgery. According to JRSM, “In both trials the rates of improvement were the same.” The treatment was then abandoned.
A 1968 study in Psychosomatic Medicine describes how suggestions influence asthma attacks. Researchers asked patients to inhale an unlabeled substance that they were told would temporarily aggravate their asthma. When patients inhaled the mist, “many had full blown asthmatic attacks,” describes Dr. Herbert Benson in Beyond the Relaxation Response. “They started wheezing, had difficulty breathing, and gasped uncontrollably” even though the substance they inhaled was a harmless saline solution. Then, researchers gave patients an “antidote” made from the exact same saline solution, and witnessed their wheezing and heavy breathing cease.
In a 1983 interview with KCRW-FM, the father of laughter medicine, Norman Cousins, discussed an LA Times front page article about a high school football game where four people got food poisoning. The doctor on case wasn’t sure about the cause, so issued a general statement to avoid the soft-drink dispensing machine. “The moment this announcement was made, 191 persons became violently ill,” and went to the hospital, recounts Cousins. “Well, it’s obvious,” Cousins states, “that what had happened was the brain had given certain signals to the body, and the body has produced poisons that produced the illness.”
Cell biologist and Stanford researcher, Bruce Lipton, Ph.D., gives several more recent examples of just how powerful one’s thoughts can be. In his book, "Biology of Belief," he recounts:
A Baylor School of Medicine study, published in 2002 in the New England Journal of Medicine evaluated surgery for patients with severe debilitating knee pain. The lead author on the study, Dr. Bruce Moseley, knew that knee surgery helped his patients: “All good surgeons know there is no placebo effect in surgery.” But Moseley was trying to figure out which part of the surgery was giving his patients relief. The patients in the study were divided into three groups. Moseley shaved the damaged cartilage in the knee of one group. For another group, he flushed out the knee joint, removing material thought to be causing the inflammatory effect. Both of these constitute standard treatment for arthritic knees. The third group got fake surgery. All three groups were prescribed the same postoperative care, which included an exercise program.
The results were shocking. Yes, the groups who received surgery, as expected, improved. But the placebo group improved just as much as the other two groups! Despite the fact there are 650,000 surgeries yearly for arthritic knees, at a cost of about $5,000 each, the results were clear to Moseley: “My skill as a surgeon had no benefit on these patients. The entire benefit of surgery for osteoarthritis of the knee was the placebo effect.” Television news programs graphically illustrated the stunning results. Footage showed members of the placebo group walking and playing basketball, in short doing things they reported they could not do before their “surgery.” The placebo patients didn’t find out for two years that they had gotten fake surgery. One member of the placebo group, Tim Perez, who had to walk with a cane before the surgery, is now able to play basketball with his grandchildren. He summed up the theme of this book when he told the Discovery Health Channel, “In this world anything is possible when you put your mind to it. I know that your mind can work miracles.”
James Goodlatte is a certified holistic lifestyle coach who currently assists new parents and pregnant moms to achieve optimal health. He can be contacted at FitForBirth@gmail.com or through YourSuperBaby.com.