If you could reduce your pain - or even improve your health - by simply changing
your thought life, would you do it?
This is not a theoretical question. It’s one based on scientific knowledge and practical experience.
The placebo effect is well known among doctors and patients alike. A placebo is
a sham treatment designed to mimic the appearance but not the effect of the real
treatment. Except it often does.
This isn’t new information. But a brand new Harvard study has now quantified the
incredible effect your beliefs - the placebo effect - can have on your symptoms of
In the study, patients received six envelopes with a pill inside. Two were marked
placebo, two were marked Maxalt (a drug for migraine treatment), and two were
marked placebo or Maxalt. However, one pill in each set of labeled envelopes
was actually a placebo and the other Maxalt.
Here’s the kicker. Regardless of which pill was actually in the envelope, the
words on the envelope opened affected the patient’s reduction in pain. Placebo
and Maxalt marked as placebo offered a 25% to 35% decrease in pain. Even
properly labeled placebos gave some pain relief.
Most interesting, envelopes marked “placebo or Maxalt” had the same 40% pain
reduction effect as properly labeled Maxalt, regardless of whether the pill was
actually Maxalt or placebo.
Researchers still don’t know exactly how placebos work or why even a labeled
placebo works better than no treatment at all. Yet the evidence from numerous
studies clearly shows your thoughts and beliefs directly affect your symptoms
and speed of recovery up to 80% of the time.
The Placebo Effect’s Evil Twin
The placebo effect shows how a positive attitude affects your ability to recover.
But can a negative attitude slow or even prevent recovery?
Yes. It’s called the nocebo effect. And it’s just as powerful.
Taking only a placebo from a bottle labeled as the real medicine with warnings of
side effects is known to cause these medication side effects. Patients given
saline water instead of a chemotherapy drug have vomited and even lost their
hair. Patients misdiagnosed with terminal illnesses have died, only to discover
during autopsy they never had the disease.
Tremendous negative effects. All through the power of suggestion.
How to Influence Your Recovery
What you believe about your health and prospects for recovery makes a
Yes, there are physical and dietary causes of pain and disease. But your mental
state is a critical factor in achieving and maintaining good health.
First, understand and believe that recovery is possible. Never give up. Never
think you’ve exhausted every option. It’s highly unlikely you’ll ever exhaust every
alternative for recovery from any condition. Not to mention the scientific literature
shows numerous examples of even “incurable” diseases … cured.
Second, take positive action. Positive thinking alone is rarely a cure. It’s an
assist. Educate yourself on the options available to improve your health. Reading
this shows you’re already on the right path. If you need further help, ask.
Finally, consider what negative emotional factors may be contributing to your
pain or disease. One fascinating book I’ve found helpful as a resource in
determining what specific negative thought patterns are likely behind various
disease patterns and how to correct them is Louise L. Hay’s, “Heal Your Body A-
Z.” I highly recommend it.
Kam-Hansen S, et al. Altered placebo and drug labeling changes the outcome of
episodic migraine attacks. Science Translational Medicine. 2014 Jan
Knox R. Half of a Drug’s Power Comes From Thinking It Will Work. NPR. Jan 10.
Rankin L. The Nocebo Effect: Negative Thoughts Can Harm Your Health.
Psychology Today. 2013 Aug 6.
Bingel U., et al. The effect of treatment expectation on drug efficacy: imaging the
analgesic benefit of the