In a world full of imagination, creativity, and outside-of-the-box thinking, one can argue it was only a matter of time before someone found a way to trick our brains into believing something that isn't actually true and make it useful for us.
Illusionists, visual artists, actors, and others have been doing this for quite a while after all.
However, here we are talking about a different medium altogether.
In the following article, we will delve into the world of the placebo effect.
We will explore what exactly it is, how it works, as well as some fascinating stories.
Keep reading to find out more about this intriguing phenomenon!
What Is Placebo?
Placebos are "fake" or "untrue" measures taken to better the health of someone with the intention of tricking their mind well enough for the actual changes to happen.
In more detail, a placebo treatment can be anything from a sugar pill to a saline injection to entire fake surgical operations.
In fact, this method has been a part of modern medicine ever since we started noticing the strong connection our minds and bodies have.
The method of placebo is mainly reliant on the belief of the patient that he has experienced the real treatment, and any consequent effects are of that treatment.
However, recent studies show that even if the patients know they may be given a placebo, the effects still happen - that's how powerful suggestions and beliefs are.
On a physical level, researchers noticed that those who felt pain relief on placebo medication had greater activity in the middle frontal gyrus brain region, which makes up about one-third of the frontal lobe.
It is now supposed this is one of the main sectors of the brain where "the placebo effect" can be found.
However, some parts of the brain stem, spinal cord, nucleus accumbens, and amygdala also play a major part in the process.
Strong placebo responses have also been linked to increases in dopamine and opioid receptor activity.
Both of these chemicals are involved in reward and motivation pathways in the brain, which explains how the communication between mind and body is being sustained on placebo.
How Does It Work?
There are still some unknown aspects as to how a placebo works. However, what we are sure of is it's a complex neurobiological reaction.
This reaction includes everything from increases in neurotransmitters, like endorphins and dopamine, to more significant activity in certain brain regions responsible for emotions, self-management, and moods, like the ones we mentioned above.
One American professor, a renowned name at Harvard Medical School, says, "The placebo effect is a way for your brain to tell the body what it needs to feel better.”
However, he adds that initiating this inner dialogue isn't all there is to making a placebo treatment a success.
"You have to go to a clinic at certain times and be examined by medical professionals in white coats. You receive all kinds of exotic pills and undergo strange procedures. All this can have a profound impact on how the body perceives symptoms because you feel you are getting attention and care."
These and more similar rituals we connect to getting better are what some scientists would argue account for more than half the battle when taking placebo medications.
What happens after we believe we're under medication is also rather interesting.
For one, we can become more motivated in terms of taking generally better basic care of ourselves.
After we know we have help from the outside in the form of medicine, we often start to improve other aspects of our daily lives like diet, exercise, and rest.
These changes alone may be responsible for improving our health, despite the medicine being a placebo.
Another thing that happens often is that our interpretation of our symptoms may change.
When we expect to feel better, we sometimes change the way we perceive and evaluate the inputs our bodies give us.
For instance, before taking a placebo, we might describe something as sharp pain, while after that same feeling can be characterized as an "uncomfortable sensation" or "tingling."
Another important fact is that taking the placebo and expecting to feel better is often soothing, thus reducing the levels of stress chemicals the body produces.
Finally, but definitely not with little importance, placebos can help our brains refocus.
What we mean is that they can make us use our past better condition as a guide for our current one.
Research indicates that the brain responds to an imagined scene in much the same way as it responds to an actual scene.
A placebo may help the brain to remember a time before the onset of symptoms and then bring about the change needed to the body.
This theory is called "remembered wellness."
The placebo effect is one of the most fascinating phenomena in medicine. The fact that a fake treatment can produce real results is both mind-boggling and intriguing.
And while the mechanisms behind the placebo effect are still not fully understood, there is no doubt that it is a clash of psychological and physiological responses in the body.
Even more interestingly, in some cases, the placebo effect is so strong that it can outperform active treatments.
This begs the question: if placebos can have such a powerful impact on our health, what else can they do?
Unfortunately, we don't have all the answers yet. But as research on the placebo effect continues, we may find that the power of our mind is even more potent than we ever imagined!
Do you have a story about the placebo effect? Comment below!