Researchers are perplexed by recent studies that have placebos performing very well compared to new and experimental pharmaceuticals. Meanwhile the science of Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is echoing what mystics and shaman have been saying forever… we have untold powers to heal ourselves!
What Makes the US Different?
The placebo effect is exploding in the United States, but nowhere else. This may have something to do with the fact that the United States has 5% of the world’s population yet consumes 75% of the worlds prescription drugs. Recent research on placebos comes from a McGill University and is published in Pain, the Journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain. I first learned about this in a wonderful article by Carolyn Gregoire in Huffington Post titled, Placebo Effect Puzzle Has Scientists Scratching Their Heads.
The ‘Sugar Pill’ is Working!
The analysis revealed that in U.S. trials conducted in 1993, pain medications were rated to be an average of 27 percent more effective than placebo pills. In the 2013 trials, however, the pain medication was only 9 percent more effective than the placebo. The difference wasn’t attributed to decreased effectiveness of the medication, but instead to a greater response to the placebo. In other words, the sugar pill has become nearly as effective as medication in alleviating pain. – Carolyn Gregoire in Placebo Effect Puzzle Has Scientists Scratching Their Heads.
The above study focused on pain-killers, but similar results have been observed for anti-depressants. With more than 1 in 5 Americans taking mental health drugs the number of people seeking alternatives and preventative measures continues to grow. Yoga, meditation, healthy diet, and exercise do not come in the form of a pill but tend to address the larger picture of wellbeing that is too often overlooked by the medical establishment.
Although placebo may not be a viable treatment option, there are other treatments that on average work as well as antidepressants, [such as] physical exercise and cognitive behavioral psychotherapy. As far as we know, these alternatives don’t make people worse. – Irving Kirsch, Time Magazine
Tuning To Our Trauma
All of this points to the innate ability our bodies have to self-regulate, seek balance (homeostasis), and heal. You would think that we would be eager to listen to our own bodies when they speak to us through symptoms, yet we usually do the exact opposite by numbing the pain or ignoring what we feel. Peter Levine, author of Waking the Tiger, is an expert in trauma resolution and a lead voice in field of Somatic Experiencing, which invites us to tune in to our bodies as well as our emotions in order to reclaim our health.
Through hundreds of hours of client sessions, Levine began to witness how clients’ bodies told their stories of trauma, even if the clients had no specific memories. Once Levine guided them into the sensate experience of trauma, the body then took over and finished what was unprocessed, or incomplete. Clients receive the added gifts of increased body awareness, a stronger connection to self, a shift in deep-seated patterns, a more regulated nervous system, and a sense of mastery.
Why do humans need to be guided at all? The biggest obstacle is how inattentive and unfamiliar we are with our physical sensations. Our big, sophisticated brains constantly out-think and override our bodily needs. We are trained to ignore signs of hunger, pain, discomfort, injury, danger, as well as pleasure, saturation, and fulfillment. What’s astonishing is how forgiving and responsive the body is. As soon as we tune into it, shifts begin to happen. – Peter Levine
Prescription of the Future
The mind, our beliefs, emotions, and lifestyle play a much larger role in our wellbeing than we tend to recognize. While researchers are wondering how to avoid the dreaded monkey-wrench of the placebo effect in testing new drugs, the general public is recognizing that taking charge of ones health doesn’t need to always start with a call to the doctor or a new prescription.
As Carolyn Gregoire underscores in her Huffington Post article, “If the placebo effect continues on its current trajectory, American pharmaceutical companies may find it increasingly difficult to get consumers to buy new drugs.”
By learning the bodymind language of symptoms and illness you can learn what is being repressed or ignored in your psyche and emotions and the affect this is having on your physical body. – Deb Shapiro, author of Your Body Speaks Your Mind
Popular books like Your Body Speaks Your Mind are a significant indicator that a new paradigm in health is upon us. Science and spirituality, like the brain and body have lots to gain by embracing the wisdom that the other has to share. We are evolved enough to know that the answers we seek aren’t always either/or.
A balanced and holistic approach is a prescription for wellbeing. So keep your doctors number close by but also take the power of your health into your own hands. Your body will thank you for listening to it, your emotions will release freely when they feel welcome and your quality of life will increase. Placebos may not be the miracle cure after all, but what they might be showing us is that we already possess an untold capacity for self-healing.