Creating Waves of Awareness
Placebo effect: Also called the placebo response. A remarkable phenomenon in which a placebo -- a fake treatment, an inactive substance like sugar, distilled water, or saline solution -- can sometimes improve a patient's condition simply because the person has the expectation that it will be helpful. Expectation to plays a potent role in the placebo effect. The more a person believes they are going to benefit from a treatment, the more likely it is that they will experience a benefit.
To separate out this power of positive thinking and some other variables from a drug's true medical benefits, companies seeking governmental approval of a new treatment often use placebo-controlled drug studies. If patients on the new drug fare significantly better than those taking placebo, the study helps support the conclusion that the medicine is effective.
The power of positive thinking is not a new subject. The Talmud, the ancient compendium of rabbinical thought, states that: "Where there is hope, there is life." And hope is positive expectation, by another name. The scientific study of the placebo effect is usually dated to the pioneering paper published in 1955 on "The Powerful Placebo" by the anesthesiologist Henry K. Beecher (1904-1976). Beecher concluded that, across the 26 studies he analyzed, an average of 32% of patients responded to placebo.
It has been shown that placebos have measurable physiological effects. They tend to speed up pulse rate, increase blood pressure, and improve reaction speeds, for example, when participants are told they have taken a stimulant. Placebos have the opposite physiological effects when participants are told they have taken a sleep-producing drug.
The placebo effect is part of the human potential to react positively to a healer. A patient's distress may be relieved by something for which there is no medical basis. A familiar example is Band-Aid put on a child. It can make the child feel better by its soothing effect, though there is no medical reason it should make the child feel better.
People who receive a placebo may also experience negative effects. They are like side effects with a medication and may include, for example, nausea, diarrhea and constipation. A negative placebo effect has been called the nocebo effect.
What Is the Placebo Effect?
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When a treatment is based on a known inactive substance like a sugar pill, distilled water, or saline solution rather than having real medical value, a patient may still improve merely because their expectation to do so is so strong. To eliminate the effect of positive thinking on clinical trials, researchers often run double-blind, placebo-controlled studies.
Sources: Placebo Effect, Robert Todd Carroll, The Skeptic's Dictionary, Skepdic.com, The Mysterious Placebo Effect, by Carol Hart, American Chemical Society, Modern Drug Discovery, July/August 1999: The Healing Power of Placebos, by Tamar Nordenberg, FDA Consumer magazine January-February 2000
The sympathetic nervous system activates our survival reflexes to fight or flight. The impulses of this system take control of many of the internal organs when we do things such as exercise strenuously and when we are over come with very strong emotions like fear, anger, hat, anxiety. This system helps the body cope with stress. It causes things to change so the body is able to adapt to the stress such as the heartbeat increases, blood vessels constric, glands secrete more, and salivary and digestive glands secrete less.
Any type of lung irritant or perhaps even an emotional stimulus may trigger the desire to cough and can easily make you feel irritated. A study proposes that coughing can be relaxed from a simple placebo, which leads one to believe if this begins all in the mind, we may have the power to stop what might be a physical stimulus with a mental thought. Eureka! How innovative.
University of Queensland, Australia researchers asked a group of participants to breathe in a small amount of spicy chili peppers that typically triggers a cough reflex.
Twenty-one subjects who were given a placebo medicine and told they were getting "lidocaine" anesthetic before breathing the capsaicin had a reduced urge to cough. (45% ) On the other hand, those who were told they were receiving an inert gas substance that would not effect their cough response were compared to the group given the positive suggestion.
All 21 subjects received the inert gas, the only difference was what they were told they were receiving. The conclusion that the mind or brain could react and make a difference in the nervous system response to stimuli.
Important to note that one group was actually given a 'negative' suggestion, which may have even made the impact and differential greater than if they were just given the inert gas without a verbal suggestion.
On average, the participants had a 45% reduction in the urge to cough and rated the intensity of desire from about a 2-4 on a ten point scale.
Other placebo research on pain, urinary tract and depression have also proved positive results.