Placebo Effect: How Real and Powerful is it? (4 Key Points)

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Placebo Effect: How Real and Powerful is it?

“Ohhh, it’s just a Placebo and has literally no therapeutic value”. You might have heard of the Placebo Effect one way or another. From sugar pills and saline injections to the mysterious faith healing and psychic surgeries. But what makes it interesting is the innate capabilities of our body to heal.

The Placebo Effect is a phenomenon observed for centuries by scientists and religious groups. As strange as it may sound, some people cure themselves from a sugar pill (fake drug) and the strong belief that they will heal. Others are said to heal incurable diseases due to their faith in God. There are also shamans or priests that claim to have supernatural abilities to cure people.

But what causes the Placebo Effect? Is the sugar pill really a cure? Or is it a symbol of the possibility of grand self-healing?


#1. Understanding the Placebo Effect


The value of this phenomenon isn’t the fake drug with zero therapeutic value. The real value is the mechanism that triggers the Placebo Effect.

The common observation by most researchers is that the subjects need to be “fooled” or “deceived” that they are being treated. A patient having a strong belief in the “treatment” will exhibit measurable therapeutic effects. If the patient is aware that he or she is taking a placebo, then there is no observable therapeutic effect.

This is very similar to the concept of “faith healing”. The “treatment” is more effective the stronger the belief of the patient is in the “treatment”. Although few, there are terminal stage cancer cases that heal spontaneously because of psychic surgeries.

But the big question is… do we really need to be deceived first in order for the placebo effect to take place? People who go to modern doctors put their faith in the hands of science. Those who go to shamans or priests put their faith in their God. But how are all of these any different from putting your complete faith in yourself?

Most drugs are synthetic chemicals designed to work with your body. It means that these chemicals can be naturally produced by your own body too. Your body can produce these chemicals based on what you eat, drink or even breathe.

So is it merely a matter of belief? Or are there other variables in play that can increase the odds of the placebo effect?


#2. Placebo Effect in Modern Medicine


Antidepressants vs Placebo

For several decades, the placebo effect has been a thorn in the side of pharmaceutical companies. Why is that so?

You’re familiar with antidepressants that are marketed to people with depressions, right? But what if I told you that most of its effects are because of the placebo effect?

An unbiased research study was conducted in 2014 comparing antidepressants and placebos. It is crazy that 82% of the effects of psychotropics are due to the placebo response. About 57% of the clinical trials failed or showed negative results. And only the remaining 43% showed statistically significant benefit over placebo. But worse is that these drugs are clinically insignificant.

This means that perceived benefits of antidepressants are just from the placebo effect. Healing of depression was highly linked to the desire of the patient to get better. Our body is capable of producing the necessary chemicals to help the mind get better. Isn’t that amazing? 🙂

These findings lead to questioning the FDA approved drug treatments given to people with depression.


Placebo Surgeries

But how about surgeries? Surely all of them have a definite therapeutic effect, right? I mean, why would you risk your life on the surgery table if it didn’t have benefits?

Well, I’ll let you decide on your own after presenting what I found.

Like it or not, there are placebo surgeries. It was shocking for me when I read a 2016 scientific research paper about it. Their results suggested that 8 out of 10 of the surgery types didn’t produce significant effects compared to placebo. And because of this, the study suggested that a reevaluation of surgical procedures be done.

Let me repeat it in case it didn’t leave an impression on you. Results showed that 8 out of 10 modern surgeries are no better than placebo surgeries!

Of course, this created an uproar because this is a major blow to the established medical society. But for us normal people, we should be aware of the treatments that we undergo.


Modern Medicine vs Alternative Medicine

For decades, many modern doctors have criticized any kind of alternative medicine as being JUST A PLACEBO. But interestingly, the same can also be said for many methods of modern medicine when compared to placebos.

As crazy and shocking as it is, unbiased research studies showed that most modern medical treatments rely heavily on the placebo response too. Being aware of this can shake your very belief in modern medical science.


#3. Placebo Effect in Faith Healing or Psychic Surgery


For decades, faith healing has been labeled as a fake treatment by scientists and skeptics alike. It shouldn’t work based on scientific theory but it does. This phenomenon has been linked by some people to the placebo effect.

Some psychic healers believe that they have supernatural powers granted by their God. Other patients have a strong belief that psychic healing can help them after years of failure from modern medicine.

So is it really supernatural? I don’t think so. I think that your body is capable of accelerated healing on its own. The inner workings of it is still a struggle for modern science to explain. But a clue for this might be in the belief of healing. Or it could be the chemicals produced by your body when you think that you are healing.

I think that the “rituals” done in faith healing are just triggers to activate the accelerated healing of people. But because it is based on faith, you can say that its consistency is questionable compared to modern medical science. But then again, even modern medical science unknowingly relies on the belief of patients too.


#4. Consistency of Self-healing using the Placebo Effect


Spontaneous Healing

There are hopeless cases of cancer patients that suddenly heal without any kind of remission. Spontaneous healing such as these baffle medical doctors as they don’t understand how it happened. Statistically speaking, it is almost sure that these patients will die. But these patients literally healed overnight for reasons that doctors and scientists can’t explain.


Placebo Effect in Clinical Trials

From the clinical trials, it would seem that the Placebo Effect is very varied. Some can have zero response to it and some can have better effects than the drug being tested. 

Scientists still question its practical applications even though it appears in any kind of drug trial. But this is due mainly to the lack of consistency of results. And yes, this is indeed a valid concern.

The Placebo trials are evidence of how our bodies can create chemicals on par with the drug being tested. A living human is like a mini drugstore that produces chemicals that affect our functions.


Clues on Making your Placebo Effect Stronger

The Placebo Effect is wonderful and I believe we can all agree to that.

Interestingly, there are clues on how to make this effect stronger or more consistent. These clues can be found from practices such as Qigong, Yoga, meditation, etc. The best evidence of consistency so far is Wim Hof who practices a variation of Tummo Yoga.

Wim Hof was injected with an endotoxin that makes any person very sick for a few hours. The guy just did his deep breathing exercises and he didn’t get sick at all. Wim Hof showed that he can control his endocrine system. Having control of the endocrine system means that you can also control your immune system response.


#5. Conclusion

I hope I was able to open your mind about the Placebo Effect. This is a mechanism in our body that helps our survival but isn’t well understood by modern science. Good thing is that there are clues on how to tap into it using ancient practices like Qigong, Yoga and meditation.

Hopefully, you no longer think of it as a “fake treatment” but rather your own body’s accelerated healing mechanism.

If you want to tap into the power of the placebo effect, then I recommend that you do Basic Deep Breathing Exercises. After that, you can start practicing advanced breathing exercises like Wim Hof Method, Qigong and Nadi Shodhana. Not going through the basics will only result in disappointment and disbelief.

35 thoughts on “Placebo Effect: How Real and Powerful is it? (4 Key Points)”

  1. Interesting read and honestly this is my first time to read about Placebo effect and I don’t have any idea about it but thanks to you now I undestand what is it.

  2. I’ve read a lot about placebo effect when I was in college. I think the way we think really think affects our body. It helps to always have a positive outlook in life.

  3. I’ve heard and read the word ‘placebo’ several times already but haven’t really had the time to check what it really means. So, thank you for this post, I now understand.

  4. Only now that I have heard about placebo. For me, if that’s a way to help someone heal, then I guess, this is not a bad idea. Because how many times we may say to others that they have the ability to heal themselves, that all they need is to believe on themselves, it is a bad habit of humans to deny and sometimes, they prefer to be on state of suffering just to feel they are alive.

    1. Hmmm… seems like you are describing a depressed person.

      The mind is like an operating system… the software and the body is the hardware. The OS and the hardware has to work together. 🙂

  5. Thanks so much for the info! I honestly wasn’t aware of the placebo affect before I came upon this post and it’s so interesting how our body reacts to diseases.

  6. This is a good read. I’ll be honest. I don’t know much about placebo until this post. I believe that our bodies is really wonderful. I am a breastfeed mom and I read that when our child is sick, our body will create the medicine for the baby. The mommy’s body will know that the child is sick hence it will create more antibodies to heal the child. We really have a healing mechanism in our body, that I believe.

    1. Yes, the body has the capacity to do accelerated healing as evidenced by the placebo effect from so many medical trials around the world. 🙂

    1. Exactly my point! I’ve always assumed that surgery is effective since it is an invasive procedure with a lot of risks for the patient. Which is why I was very surprised when I’ve read the scientific research paper about it (8 out of 10 showed results on par with the placebo surgeries). 😮

      Since your initial reaction is similar to mine, I highly suggest you read the scientific research paper directly. Read it (methodology and results), try to process the information and make your conclusions. In my case, I’ve read it repeatedly so that the info I put in this article is accurate.

  7. thanks for all the information you shared. it is just now that i am learning about the term “Placebo Effect”. it is very encouraging to know that it is possible to heal.

    1. We do heal naturally. The special thing about the “placebo effect” is its accelerated healing effects. 🙂

  8. Your arguments are very persuasive and I agree that the believing you can heal is very powerful. I do wish that all sickness will be healed if we were just a bit optimistic, but that’s not the case for eveyone. Our bodies work in mysterious ways, but each body is different as well.

    1. True, it is not the case for everyone since the placebo effect isn’t consistent. And that is where the ethical arguments about using placebo for curing people comes in. Faith and emotional states are volatile for most people.

      For people like Wim Hof (and others labeled as “mystic masters”) who can do it at will, it seems like their mind-body connection were trained.

  9. Oohh, this was a nice read on Placebo effects! I heard from someone once that if a Placebo is effective, it’s no longer considered a “placebo”. Putting that aside though, our bodies really have the ability to diagnose what’s wrong and do as much work as it can to make whatever it is better.

    1. Whoa, that is an interesting perspective, haha

      Yes, our bodies are capable of diagnosing itself and recovering from grave sickness. The placebo effect is a major clue on accelerated healing. 🙂

  10. Placebo effect and faith healing. I’m gonna hang on to this for a bit. I’ll share this to my dad who has a cataract. 🙁

    1. A fair bit of warning though is that the placebo effect can be inconsistent. So far, I kinda view accelerated healing consistency as a trainable skill (as evidenced by Wim Hof and other “mystic masters”). 🙂

      The skill based accelerated healing seems to be about establishing a better connection between the mind and the body.

  11. blair villanueva

    This is a very interesting read and I learned something from your blog. Thanks for sharing!

  12. This topic reminded me of my college years as a Nursing Student, and Pharmacology was a dire topic to me. The placebo topic is discussed extensively especially on the ethical side of the practice. I remember also, one of the take aways we have is Antidepressants maximum therapeutic will manifest more or less two weeks upon initiating the treatment, hence, a number of failures since patients and significant others are rooting for the instant effect. Now, I am contemplating to go back to Clinical Practice and use my nurse license again.

    1. Regarding ethics, I personally believe that we, humans, can learn how to tap into the mechanisms behind the Placebo Effect without lying or deceiving people. But before that happens, we need to understand it more. Of course, this will definitely disrupt our view of current medical practices. 🙂

  13. I clicked the research on the placebo effect on surgery and my mind was BLOWN! I worked as an OR nurse last year and I can’t believe that it is possible to do such placebo surgeries with wanted effects! The mind truly is a powerful thing!

  14. I had pharmacology subjects before in college but have never thought about this until now. I think that the way we think will determine how our body will deal with a certain phenomena.

  15. Placebo is one of the most controversial issues in the world of medicine and psychology. I think each people have fears and our minds are so powerful that it can be reconditioned once it reaches the point of comfort. Placebo works because the person using it has experienced relief from it.

    1. Interestingly, there actually is a link between high levels of stress hormone in showing symptoms of sickness. And high levels of serotonin shifts the body’s functions to focus on healing.

      So yeah, experiencing a mental relief can have seemingly miraculous healing effect, haha

  16. I tried doing a basic deep breathing exercise that I found on Youtube once but I don’t know if I was doing it right. Also tried yoga and meditation from apps but I feel like there’s something wrong with what I’m doing. Kaya I wanted to enroll in a yoga class soon when this all over. ♡

  17. お久しぶりですね。
    A very nice article again na napapanahon. We really should practice breathing exercise. Apple put breathing app on the iwatch not just para meron lang nito but to remind us to take some deep breaths and relax.
    Nakaka-idol talaga si Wim Hof! Looking forward again sa next article mo.

    Thumbs up, Rad!

    1. Thanks, Athena! So far, Wim Hof is the best example of tapping into the mechanisms behind the placebo effect. 🙂

  18. Thanks for the detailed discussion about placebo. Yes, I agree with what you said that it cannot be considered a fake medicine but an accelerated healing mechanism. For me, a person’s will power and mindset help a lot in healing from any illness.

    1. Yeah, we have a built-in accelerated healing mechanism in our body. Human society will reach a higher level when we understand the secrets behind the placebo effect.

  19. Interesting read. I have read also from other articles that evolutionary biology can explain this and people believe the self-healing properties of the placebo effect.

    1. Ohhhh, I wonder what evolutionary biology you’ve read that explains the mechanisms behind the placebo effect? 🙂

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