Daily Archives: March 24, 2013

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Placebo: it’s all in your mind….

March 24, 2013 by in category Archives

I was surprised when I examined the literature that came with my first prescription migraine drugs.  There, in minuscule print on tissue thin paper folded about 20 times, was the FDA approved statement of drug effectiveness (along with a host of other information) and a visual–a graph charting the drugs efficacy Vs a placebo, two lines heading up, one ever so slightly above the other.

In order to be endorsed as a valid medication, a drug must deliver some tiny percent greater effectiveness than a sugar pill.  This didn’t seem like a very high bar to clear!  But one look at the chart showed the unexpected, but irrefutable fact that the placebo had significantly positive impact.  The bar was in fact quite high indeed! 

Did this feed into the physician’s dismissive “its all in your head” “hysteria” “maladie imaginaire” ?  For me, it was incontrovertible evidence of what we all know, but can have difficulty acknowledging: the incredible power of our own mind.

In many–though not all–cases, we can will things to happen.  And while the power of belief is accepted in many areas, it can be scoffed at or dismissed in others. Though mankind, whose ever-present default position of being the center of the universe (!), all knowing and all controlling, can take this too far.

It’s why snake-oil salesman are able to succeed, along with faith healers, talismans, the power of positive thinking, and mind-over-matter. Change may not have a physical reason for happening, but sometimes, if there is a spiritual/emotional reason, that in itself may create an opportunity, a pathway, to open your mind and allow your body to follow.

Believing is seeing, and if we can allow ourselves to accept new things/beliefs, we will likely see new things, even as we look at the familiar.

Believing is also tasting–I remember being at a high-end conference and heading for the dessert table, where there was a large bowl of unlabelled pale yellow pudding.  I thoughts…lemon something?  Took a sample.  No, just light and blandly sweet tasting.  Our table speculated as it what it was.  Vanilla Pudding?  Seemed too plebeian for our exalted venue.  Then it clicked: white chocolate mousse.  Everyone dashed off to have some.  It’s blandness had been transformed to an elegant delicacy.

This insight has lead me to strive to ignore all warnings about the relative merit–or negatives–about all digestibles.  My understanding of what is “good” or “bad” for me has become crystal clear and easy:

  1. Whatever I like is good for me
  2. Whatever I don’t like is bad for me.

And you know, I can tell the instant I put something in my mouth whether it is good or bad for me.

This insight, of course, is coupled with the overarching truth of moderation in everything.  To which I also add the key ingredient of appreciation…


Isabel Swift

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