Thursday, January 20, 2011
The Power of the Placebo
I'm sure we've all heard of the "placebo effect." It's the name given to the positive effect experienced during a drug trial -- not by the substance in question -- but by the mind of the person who's unknowingly been given a blank (i.e. "sugar pill"). The idea, of course, is that a drug should perform better than the placebo in order to be considered valid and market-ready.
What's rather remarkable about this whole process is that while billions of dollars are spent on inventing new drugs that must prove themselves against the maligned placebo effect, little money, time, or resources are being invested into researching, better understanding, and maximizing the effect of the placebo. Why is this so?
The response often given by those who make such decisions is that the placebo response is not valid because it is either: a) generated by a temporary state of mind which is not sustainable; b) it is occurring through random happen-stance (i.e. the improvement in the patient being tested could be occurring for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with their state of mind); c) "modern" medicine is still based on Newtonian physics and, therefore, only concerns itself with matter than can be quantified (i.e. we don't deal with invisible energy -- we leave that realm for those crazy quantum physicists and religious folks to fight about); or d) a combination of a) b) and c).
Doesn't it make you curious though -- that when the placebo effect is seriously competing (and sometimes winning out) against billion-dollar drugs -- why no one wants to invest in or better understand this rather amazing phenomenon. There is one answer which comes quickly to mind, but which is seldom spoken out loud in the pharma industry (and which may or may not be true): you can't patent the placebo effect and therefore it isn't profitable to invest in understanding the phenomenon better.
Now, based on the business model of our healthcare system, such a decision makes logical sense... or so it would seem. Think of the potential of lost revenue, lost profits, and lost jobs that might occur if people learned how to heal themselves and each other without the need of expensive treatments and drug protocols?
On the other hand, think of the new revenue, new profits, new jobs, new productivity that could come about if people didn't get sick or could cure themselves easily -- or if we invested in a model that focused on systemic wellness and prevention, rather than managing and controlling merely the symptoms of chronic illness. Where else might we invest our time, energy, and resources?
It stretches the imagination and boggles the mind to even think that such a scenario might be possible, let alone plausible. But then every scientific and economic breakthrough was literally inconceivable before it came into being. And, just as a reminder, it was the brilliant physicist, Albert Einstein, who said, "To keep doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting different results, is the definition of... (yep, you got it...) insanity!! Yet that is just what we are doing in the world of healthcare.
In case you're wondering, I'm not holding my breath, waiting for the healthcare industry to change their approach. That's not likely to happen -- in my lifetime, at least. Instead, I'm looking to us -- the everyday people who have been patients of the system (and far too patient, in my way of thinking). My hope is that we will get curious enough, motivated enough, inspired enough to finally delve into the innate power of healing that manifests itself throughout nature -- and, it could be argued, in humans during drug trials, as the "placebo effect." It is this innate power that I believe exists in the natural foods we eat (and in the nature-derived, nutritional supplements we can take to reinforce our diet in a modern world so lacking in vital nutrients).
I love one man's definition of the notorious placebo effect. He told me during an interview a few years ago that, "The placebo effect is nothing more nor less than the marvelously overlooked power that is elicited when people simply, but powerfully choose to believe."
And with that, I simply invite each of us to wonder... to ponder... to ask, "what if? Then see where your wondering heart takes you. It may lead you to a solution or thought that brings about a revolution in wellness. How marvelous would that be?
Peace, Love, and Good Health to you,
Chief Community Officer
Our Health Co-op, Inc.