Owning Pink

Redefining women's health: for heart, mind, body, and spirit

You're Healed If You Think You Are

The placebo effect in asthma patients.

As research for my upcoming book The Prescription: 5 Spiritual Steps To Healing Yourself From Illness, Trauma, Or Loss, I have been digging deep into the medical literature, going back as far as the 1920's into medical journals in order to find cold, hard science to prove what I have long believed --that we hold within us self-healing superpowers that are stronger than any chemotherapy and more effective than any surgery.

So it delights me that, more and more, such evidence is appearing in modern day media. This week, a CNN headline reported on a fascinating study from Harvard University which was also just published in the New England Journal of Medicine. This study investigated 39 asthma patients and rotated them through four treatments--an albuterol inhaler (standard treatment for asthma), a placebo inhaler, sham acupuncture (the patients thought they were getting real acupuncture, but the needles were just placed willy nilly), and nothing. Every week, they got a different treatment, but the patients didn't know some of the treatments were fake. 

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So what happened? Unsurprisingly, 50% felt better after getting the albuterol inhaler. But lo and behold - a similar percentage felt better after getting a placebo inhaler (45%) and sham acupuncture (46%). Even among those who received no treatment, 21% felt better.

Although those who received the albuterol inhaler had more dilated bronchi, symptom improvement between the albuterol group and the two placebo groups were not statistically different. Which brings up an interesting phenomenon.

So what is actually happening?

I'll be digging deep into this issue in my book, but suffice it to say that something very powerful happens when you BELIEVE you are being treated with something that will heal you. In all but the "do nothing" treatment group, patients believed they were being given real treatment, and the combination of the belief in getting well and the support of a therapeutic relationship has been proven, time and time again in clinical research trials, to result in powerful symptom relief.

In fact, in clinical trials across the board, the placebo effect ranges from 30-75% efficacy. And it's not just symptom relief. Although this study showed 20% improvement in lung function in those receiving albuterol, compared to 7% in those receiving placebo, some studies show even more marked physiological effects in the placebo group. Which means that it's not just in your mind. Your body is actually responding physiologically. Through a series of physiological shifts, your body is actually activating a cascade of healing mechanisms that can improve your asthma, relieve pain, increase energy, and even - sometimes - cure cancer.

Regarding the Harvard study, study author Ted Kaptchuk said, "It's clear that for the patient, the ritual of treatment can be very powerful. This study suggests that in addition to active therapies for fixing diseases, the idea of receiving care is a critical component of what patients value in health care. In a climate of patient dissatisfaction, this may be an important lesson."

Yes, I agree with that. But I would argue that it goes beyond the active therapy and the idea of receiving care. I think hope is a powerful healing force, and your state of mind greatly affects the state of your body.

What do you believe?

So what do you believe about your body? Has a doctor told you that your illness is "incurable?" Do you believe you'll have to take medication for the rest of your life? Do you BELIEVE you might be able to heal yourself, not just from a physical health condition, but from an emotional, sexual, professional, financial, interpersonal, or other type of whole health issue?

I believe you have the power to heal yourself. And I'll be writing more about the proof I'm finding in the medical literature to support that belief as I dig deeper, so make sure you're signed up for my newsletter.

What do you believe? Have you healed yourself from a health condition? Have you tried to heal yourself - and failed? Tell us your stories in the comments below.

With faith in your self-healing superpowers,

****

Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.comPink Medicine Revolutionarymotivational speaker, and author of What's Up Down There? Questions You'd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.

Learn more about Lissa Rankin here. 

 

 

Lissa Rankin, M.D., is an OB/GYN physician, author, and founder of Owning Pink Center, a women's health practice in Mill Valley, California.

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