PLACEBOS: The Power of the Mind

Scientists have found much truth in the ancient Yiddish cliche “Men redt zich ein a krenk,” which means that a person can actually talk himself into a sickness. Scientists studying the mind have shown that it actually works both ways.

In a recent article in the New York Times Science Section (10/13/98) entitled “Placebos Prove So Powerful That Even Experts Were Surprised,” they report on new studies that prove amazingly that the brain triumphs over reality.

“Placebos are ‘lies that heal,'” said Dr. Anne Harrington, a historian of science at Harvard University. “A placebo is a sham treatment that a doctor gives out merely to please or placate a patient. It is a make-believe drug that has no real medical properties. It is nothing more than sugar pills in various shapes and colors in a deliberate attempt to induce placebo responses.”

Many doctors know the story of “Mr. Wright,” who was found to have cancer and, in 1957, was given only days to live. Hospitalized in Long Beach, California, with tumors the size of oranges, he heard that scientists had discovered a horse serum, Krebiozen, that appeared to be effective against cancer. He begged to receive it. His physician, Dr. Philip West, finally agreed and gave Mr. Wright an injection on a Friday afternoon. The following Monday, the astonished doctor found his patient out of his “death bed,” joking with the nurses. The tumors, the doctor wrote later, “had melted like snowballs on a hot stove.”

Two months later, Mr. Wright read medical reports that the horse serum was really a quack remedy. He suffered an immediate relapse. “Don’t believe what you read in the papers,” the doctor told Mr. Wright. Then he injected him with what he said was “a new super-refined double strength” version of the drug. Actually, it was water, but again, the tumor masses melted.

Mr. Wright was “the picture of health” for another two months – until he read a definitive report stating that Krebiozen was worthless. He died two days later.

The idea that a fatal disease can go away because of a person’s strong belief has been known for many years, yet has defied explanation. Now, scientists are beginning to discover the biological mechanisms that cause it to achieve results that border on the miraculous. Using new techniques of brain imagery, they are uncovering a host of biological mechanisms that can turn a thought, belief or desire into an agent of change in cells, tissues and organs.

A recent review of placebo-controlled studies of modern antidepressant drugs found that placebos and genuine drugs worked about as well. “If you expect to get better you will,” said Dr. Irving Kirsch, a psychiatrist at the University of Connecticut, who carried out the review.

A recent study of a baldness remedy found that 86% of men taking it either maintained or showed an increase in the amount of hair on their heads. But so did 42% of the men taking a placebo.

The power of mind control has been known for some time. Hypnosis has long been proven to cure real diseases such as asthma and itching, and it can even lead to changes in pulse rate, blood pressure, etc.

One always has to be on the watch when buying gadgets or herbal and other so-called medications that are not supported by solid scientific evidence. Many of them are nothing but placebos.

Take, for instance, claims that are being made that magnets can heal. In a recent study done by doctors on patients who used these magnetic pads to relieve themselves from pain, the doctors took out the magnets and replaced them with stones which they wrapped inside a fancy leather pouch. The effect they had was just the same as that of the magnets. Yet when the doctors left the magnets inside, but told the patients that they had replaced them with stones, the patients started complaining of pain once again. This, of course, proved that the magnets had only a placebo effect. Yet, there are some clever companies that take advantage of this placebo effect and make thousands of dollars selling these expensive magnets to people who swear by them. They, of course, claim that it has helped thousands of people and is approved by many doctors. They forget to tell you whether these doctors are well-paid to make these claims. They also don’t tell you that there is not a shred of real scientific evidence to prove that the magnets are anything more than a placebo.

While there may be nothing wrong with healing people with a placebo (as long as it works), there is something wrong with charging exorbitant prices for sugar water! Taking advantage of people by charging them thousands of dollars for placebos is a major rip-off!

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