Why am I writing about The Placebo Effect?
Synchronicity made me do it. In the last two weeks, the placebo effect took the spotlight; repeatedly appearing to me from different sources.
First, it came from Seth Godin’s podcast Akimbo. Second, I reread the chapter about autosuggestion from Napoleon Hill’s book, Think and Grow Rich. And third I got invaded from different sources with articles around the term. My favorite is this one from the New York Times. Thanks to Dan Ariely’s share on LinkedIn.
And I consume a massive amount of content on a daily basis. You don’t want to see my tabs on three browsers. It’s scary. So I told myself. “Enough is enough.” I need to write about this, especially that I’ve had my own experiences during the years.
Did you know that in pain medication the efficiency of a drug compared to placebo can have only a 9% increase? Not less than 84 clinical trials conducted during 23 years found the drug’s efficiency between 27% and 9%. So that’s it? A drug, at least for pain has only this efficiency in front of a placebo? And these are older trials. In the latest years, the gap is narrowing and the F.D.A. approvals harder to get. Amazing!
My First Placebo Story
Let me tell you one of my stories. I was pretty dorky in school. Seriously, I’ve had my other lives outside of school, but in school was a different story. And I never missed my classes. When I was in junior high, I got myself a severe injury to my leg and needed to wear gypsum all the way up for one month. Technically it was complicated to move and climb stairs. Story short, I never missed a day. My sense of duty was outrageous. Dork!
So at the end of my high school years, I decided to go home. At least once I can do that, right? I was just so bored about that next class so I told myself, “Hey, you can do this. At least once.” But I couldn’t just leave; I wanted to be let.
So I decided to make myself ill. I was pretty nervous as you can imagine, from that duty stand of view. But I’ve prepared. Thought about the moment in the earlier class, thought about it during the break. I was so emotionally involved in the process that I ended up seeing myself in a hospital, laying in bed.
The class started, and I was in a really anxious state. In my view. I pushed myself to be able to stand up and go to the professor and ask to be let home because I’m not feeling well. And finally, I did. But the outcome was different. She, the teacher, exclaimed first, “Oh, my, you look very bad. Go home and rest.” So I did, amazed about the situation. Walking out from the classroom I felt my nerves pulsating. I actually felt very ill.
When I got home, I went to the bathroom, and I had a shock. My face was so pale and blue that I was looking like a real emergency, ready of the IR. And at that moment I got it. I wanted to feel sick, and I managed it, way above my expectations. Scared about the situation I struggled to shake out that state. I needed a full hour for that until my skin recolored and I started to feel better.
That was a terrifying, but enlightening experience. For the first time, I realized the close and quick connection between the mind and the body.
Acupressure Is Not Placebo But Still
What’s more interesting is that I just healed a similar pain while reading the article mentioned above. There is a story about Kathryn Hall, a molecular biologist who struggled with carpal tunnel syndrome.
I don’t have that. In fact, I don’t have a diagnostic yet. My pain installed six weeks ago at the joint of my right hand, only on one side, not in the middle. I visited the best doctor around, and only some fluid was found, but I was sent to do the tests for Arthritis and such. My next visit will be in December, and indeed the tests detected something in my blood pointing in that direction.
Thing is since my visit to the doctor I thought I’d be better, but that didn’t happen. After the analysis (also autosuggestion?) got worst. Until the article. When I got to the Kathryn Hall’s story with her carpal tunnel syndrome, I said, “Wait a minute, I did acupressure before,” and I started rubbing all the active elbow spots I knew. I indeed found some heavily sensible spots on my elbow.
And for the first time in the last weeks, my pain vanished. In 20 seconds. I got so frustrated that I didn’t apply what I knew before. Now when I am writing this article, two hours later, still no pain. And even if the pain reappears being painless for 2 hours after six weeks based on pressing some spots for 20 seconds tells a story.
We All Know So Much But Apply So Little
Moving forward with my thinking process I could have tried my NLP techniques where the mind has all the control. I can take headaches away with a specific method. I did this many times during my courses in front of an audience. Why didn’t I tried that on my pain?
“For years, we thought of the placebo effect as the work of imagination,” Hall says. “Now through imaging, you can literally see the brain lighting up when you give someone a sugar pill.”
And another paragraph about the FDA approval process in case you didn’t know about it.
“The placebo-controlled study became the clinical-trial gold standard, requiring a new drug to demonstrate a significant therapeutic benefit over placebo to gain F.D.A. approval.
That’s a bar that is becoming ever more difficult to surmount because the placebo effect seems to be becoming stronger as time goes on.”
The study argues that
“After all, if Hall is right that clinician warmth is especially effective with a certain genotype, then, as she wrote in the paper presenting her findings from the I.B.S./sham-acupuncture study, it is also true that a different group will “derive minimum benefit” from “empathic attentions.” Should medical rituals be doled out according to genotype, with warmth and caring withheld in order to clear the way for the drugs?”
Allow me to add my 2 cents. So if they found the correlation between low or high COMT levels and the response to placebo, shouldn’t be wise to deepen the association and see if someone with low COMT levels is a person with little empathy, maybe a sociopath profile, or borderline and reversed? How about viewing it this way?
After all, molecules are a part of who we are as a whole, how we think and how we feel about things. And so developing empathy for those who don’t have it could help not only to get well for all test groups in specific cases but also help improve their lives in general. Since with empathy you can gain as much as possible by providing quality and care to the people around you.
I cannot stop. Because it’s not that you have or not have that COMT, it’s about the quantity. I searched further and found that the COMT gene influences the brain on a daily basis, mainly how the brain reacts to stress directly impacting the dopamine levels related to stress. How wonderful. But we also know that genes are NOT your destiny, but they are your TENDENCY!
So if you learn how to deal with stress, your COMT level won’t matter that much but could make you more responsible for placebo. Or even better, just to not outrage scientists. My rudimentary understanding in the field is this. In case your COMT level is low, and you’re influenced a lot by stress but not to placebo because of it, you can try this. Use placebo in a milder stress state after you achieved that relaxed state through any method that works for you. At that moment take the placebo. Does it make sense?
I just refuse to think about predetermination as being a permanent stamp. Predetermination is a seed in one direction, but if you don’t water that seed, it won’t grow. It’s always a way. I’m in personal development after all. So when you have a predetermined condition for something, you can follow, not the money but the seed route and see what you can change there. Of course, you cannot become tall to play in the NBA, but for everything achievable through your mind power, it can work.
Someone who believes in the power of the mind, autosuggestion or his path in life could be someone who “coincidently” has high COMT levels? Such a study would be worth the time. But I’m also sure that it’s not that easy. After all, these findings are fighting an entire profitable empire. Those giants wouldn’t love the competition. I can understand that. It’s their goal. But doesn’t need to be yours.
How about jumping that obstacle. Learning on our own about what’s out there and the possibilities. The power of the internet can create more happily treated people around the globe.
As a doctor at the base myself I cannot ignore the reasonable warning. You don’t take placebos with obvious clinical conditions or when your life is in danger, and you need qualified medical expertise or intervention.
Modern medicine is bliss, so use it. Use reason and logic. But there are plenty of other problems, chronical or psychological ones where such a treatment could amazingly set the difference. Not to mention self-growth. Placebo on personal development, self-improvement, self-help, you name it.
I’ve turned 40 this year, and I feel great. People say I don’t look 40 and that’s probably true. It could be because I always thought that I don’t have time to get old. For me age is only a number, doesn’t affect me at a deep level. I was always like this.
I also never thought of retirement. What’s that? If I’m not able to work anymore and keep building my legacy, I rather die. Seriously. What’s retirement? Do you just draw a line and decide you’re finished?
So, I guess my body helped my vision and kept me in shape. It’s all about perspectives and mindset. Finally, it is some sort of placebo. When I look into my future, I see myself super active until the end of times kind of way. I cannot see myself old. The idea doesn’t affect me, it’s just something that has no power over me.
And things like my hand issue I just mentioned earlier or other health problems are only part of the journey, nothing to put me down. I am far from perfect, but I don’t focus on those things anymore, because every time I did, I just went down the hill. And you cannot be perfect in a binary world. No one can. It would be a nonsense, incompatible with life on Earth. So I switched that self-destructive pattern, and instead I focus on improving my best skills and follow my vision.
What would I love you to do?
If you don’t like the solution offered to your problem, never settle to that. Go out, search and find alternatives. Try those that seem fit and have reason to it.
Listen to your intuition!
Go and ask for help, use the power of the internet, and never give up. You lose when you give up not before. If it’s about your health and the placebo effect seems like the right fit for what you have to GO FOR IT!
Don’t just listen to me. Go and find your own truth. Make yourself better, grow, and get free. I want you to be happy and healthy. Because then the world will have an extra better, healthier, positive person and less a depressed, unhappy, mean one. How about that for motivation?
Cristina Imre – High-End Coach for Top Performers; Keynote Speaker; Business Trainer & Strategist; Author; Entrepreneur