The brain, in many ways, doesn’t distinguish real from imaginary. Take a simple example of stress. Your brain responds to a stressful situation by releasing stress hormones. But your brain also releases the stress hormones when you remember a past stressful event or even when you vividly imagine one.
Research shows us that when a person receives a placebo that they believe is a drug, and subsequently experiences a placebo effect, it is because their brain has produced the substances necessary to give them what they expected the drug to do.
I’ve been thinking a bit recently about finding the balance between accepting things as they are and going with the flow and asserting your will or pushing for what you want. There’s a balance. There’s a time and a place for both...
I’ve written a lot about the links between kindness and ageing, and part of my focus has been that kindness is the opposite of stress, at least in terms of how it makes us feel and the physiological consequences of those feelings.
I recently read about an amazing story of the power of the placebo effect. It was recorded in 1957 and demonstrates just how powerful the human mind can be. A patient had advanced cancer of the lymph nodes (lymphoma) and was told that he had no more than a few weeks to live. He couldn’t get radiotherapy or chemotherapy because he was anaemic but he had heard of a new experimental anti-cancer drug called Krebiozen and begged his doctor to give him some. So the doctor gave him an injection of it.
When I worked in the pharmaceutical industry, the placebo effect was frequently dismissed as ‘all in the mind’ or ‘psychosomatic’. It wasn’t a real improvement, it was believed, merely that people ‘think’ they’re feeling better.