The Effect of Belief on Health & Body

Placebo or not? •© GLOW IMAGES

Placebo or not? • © GLOW IMAGES

Experts in the health industry, researchers and physicians, are coming to the conclusion that what one believes has a tremendous effect on the body and therefore on health.

Take, for example, the studies that have been done and are going on right now on the “placebo effect.”

The placebo effect has been known [by the medical and research community] since the 1940’s, and the interesting thing is that it’s getting stronger.  It takes advantage of the body’s ability to manufacture its own natural painkillers,” states David Siegel, of business agility  He goes on to say that “Drug researchers working in high-tech labs, …spending $100m or more on developing a specific drug … must go up against the most formidable challenge they have ever faced:  A sugar pill.”

A placebo is a substance that has no medicinal quality. It is often made of chalk.  When a trial for a treatment is undergone, the group of volunteers is split into two groups.  One is given the real treatment – usually a drug.  The other group, called the control group is given a placebo.  Neither group knows what they have been given.”

These tests have proven time and again the “placebo effect clearly demonstrates that we can influence our immune system through our beliefs. It is so universally accepted in science that our minds play a part in healing, that every experiment is designed to include a group that take a placebo.  Over and over again the placebo demonstrates that we can be healed or harmed purely through the power of belief.”

A study of 270 subjects hoping to alleviate severe arm pain was conducted by Ted Kaptchuk, a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Director of a Harvard-wide Program in Placebo Studies at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, MA.  Half the subjects were told they were receiving pain-reducing pills and half were offered acupuncture treatments.  “In both cases, people began to call in, saying they couldn’t get out of bed.  The pills were making them sluggish, the needles caused swelling and redness and higher levels of pain.”

“The side effects were simply amazing,” Kaptchuk explains in his article published in Harvard Magazine, The Placebo Phenomenon.  Members of both groups responded in the following way:  they experienced exactly what they had been warned their treatment might produce.  “But even more astounding,” Kruptchuk said, was that “most of the other patients reported real relief.”

In both cases, the placebo phenomenon had won again!  The pills that were given in this study were made of cornstarch and the acupuncture needles were “retractable shams that never pierced the skin.”  The study had actually been designed to compare two fake treatments.

Mary Baker Eddy, spiritual healer and author, who was experimenting with the effect placebos have on the body in the mid-latter 1800’s, relates several instances (of which she was aware) in her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, where a person’s belief affected their health.

  1. A patient was healed when a thermometer was put in his mouth.  The patient thought it was a procedure that would heal him and it did.
  2. A healthy person was told the bed in which he was to spend the night had been occupied by a cholera patient who died.  That man contracted cholera and died when, in actuality, no cholera patient had ever occupied the bed.

Eddy states in her findings on this subject: “From my medical practice I had learned that the dynamics of medicine is Mind.  In the highest attenuations of homoeopathy the drug is utterly expelled, hence it must be mind that controls the effect; and this attenuation in some cases healed where the allopathic doses would not.”(1)

Through many years of experimentation and study,” says a colleague of mine, William Scott, a blogger on the role prayer plays in health for media in Washington State and beyond, “Eddy learned that one’s thinking is directly linked to health and well-being. Basing her mental healing practice on a spiritual basis, she explained that positive health outcomes were possible and effective without drugs.”

If we understand that a placebo can fool the patient into thinking he is receiving medication when he is not, yet he will still experience what he thinks he is going to happen, would it not make sense instead to simply treat directly the thought or beliefs of the patient?  What kind of thinking might lead to better health?

From a wide variety of other research, it is increasingly clear that one way people improve their health by focusing on their thinking is through many different types of spiritual practices and prayer – sometimes tied to a specific religion; sometimes not. In my experience, a Bible based approach to prayer has helped me trust the Divine, and move my thinking away from trusting either a drug or a placebo. Over the years this has improved my health.

Perhaps, as we gain more insights from research into placebos, we’ll increasingly understand how to go straight to the source – the Divine – for more and more solutions to health.

(1)     Message to The Mother Church, June, 1901, page 17:24, By Mary Baker Eddy

Kate is interested in blogging about health, spirituality, science, religion, the importance of prayer in maintaining a healthy mind and body.  She is a Christian Science practitioner and the media, legislative and public contact for Christian Science in the state of Maryland.