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The Power of Placebo

By Pamela Shenk, CHt



Studies often include a placebo group, the group that thinks they are receiving treatment yet they are the controls receiving no treatment at all. It is always fascinating that many times, a person thinking they are receiving care get better, even though he/she did not receive the treatment.


Christine Northrup, M.D writes about the power of the placebo in her book Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom. She references the late Norman Cousins writing that “The doctor knows that it is the prescription slip itself, even more than what is written on it, that is often the vital ingredient for enabling a patient to get rid of whatever is ailing him.  The drug is not always necessary but belief in recovery always is.  And so the doctor may prescribe a placebo in cases where reassurance for the patient is far more useful than a famous-name pill three times per day”.


Doctor Northrup goes on to mention a study that was reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2002 of people with severe knee pain.  Bruce Moseley, M.D. an orthopedic surgeon from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, wanted to know just what part of his surgery was the most effective.  He divided the study patients into three groups.  One group had arthroscopic surgery in which the cartilage was shaved.  Another group had the knee flushed out to remove material thought to cause inflammation.  The third group was put to sleep and the standard incisions were made in their knees, but no surgery was done.  The results were amazing.  The first two groups, who actually received surgery, improved.  But the truly shocking finding was that the third group – those who had no surgery – improved just as much! 


The mind is so powerful and doesn’t know the difference between truth and fiction.  There is even a story about two groups of students.  The above average students were told they weren’t doing well and the students that were the slow learners were told how amazing they were.  The slower became above average and the above average students’ grades fell drastically.


It just goes to show that what the mind believes, the body achieves.  Encouragement and a positive outlook go a long, long way.  Live, Laugh, Love…