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How to Harness the Placebo Effect

The placebo effect remains a bit of a mystery, even in our modern and scientific age. Most of us are familiar with what a placebo is as we are used to hearing about them as a part of verifying the efficacy of new medications. Often in drug trials a group of patients are given an inert substance as a control. This lets those running the trial compare and contrast reaction to the drug versus this inactive placebo. If a drug does better than the placebo, it is considered to be an effective treatment.

What we often don’t hear is how effective the placebo acted. Often a placebo will work as well as a drug or medication. Placebos tend to work on about 30 to 40 percent of those treated with them. This is a powerful statistic. It means one third of the population responds to a placebo with less pain, improved symptoms, or complete healing. A placebo doesn’t have to pretend to be a drug; it can be a treatment, operation, food, or activity. These all can fool the mind into activating the healing and pain fighting processes of the body.

For years, doctors assumed a placebo relied on ignorance, but a recent study shows that even those told they were being given a placebo could reap benefits. In this study, participants were informed they were being given an inert substance without any active ingredients, but that these placebo substances could still improve symptoms through belief. Surprisingly, many believed and showed improvement.

This has altered the way we look at placebo. Forever it was believed placebo had to be deception to work. We now know this is not the case and we can put it to use on ourselves to heal, reduce pain, lose weight, or accomplish many physical or mental changes we would like to achieve. Here’s how to get started.

  1. It’s still important that you believe in the treatment, food, medication, or activity that you are using. Placebo effect works best when we convince our brains that what we are doing will have some benefit. Placebo effect also compounds the benefits of things that are commonly accepted as good for us. Exercise, eating well, losing unnecessary weight, believing in these while also doing them will have some powerful effects on the health of your body.
  2. Avoid negativity in yourself and others. There is a dark side to the placebo effect, where negative expectations are realized by the brain and the body. This is often called the nocebo effect. Negativity is the enemy of the placebo effect, but it is also just a poor way to live. Try to see the best out of everything. Not only will the placebo effect work better, but you will be more pleasant to be around.
  3. Do research into the beneficial nature of foods, treatments, medication, or activities. Knowing how something works and seeing evidence behind it will reinforce your positive expectations. Explore how vitamins and minerals interact with other nutrients in the body, find which studies have shown promise, discover whole foods that promote healing, and learn which activities will best aid you as you work toward your goals.
  4. Visualize. Your brain is a powerful tool that is capable of more than any of us truly knows. Athletes will often spend hours visualizing the perfect goal or swing and it has been shown to improve their performance. You can apply these same tactics to your health. Visualize your symptoms improving, the healing process, weight loss, or whatever you are trying to achieve. Your brain will work hard to make it reality.
  5. Make goals and start the changes necessary to achieve them, no matter how small. If you tell a group of workers that their job is intense enough that they should lose weight and show improved cardiovascular function, they will begin to lose weight and show improved cardiovascular function, well above other workers in the same field. Apply this to what you do. If you believe that parking further from the grocery store will help you lose weight, you will begin to lose weight. If you believe that eating more fruits and vegetables will make you feel better, it will. Doing good things for yourself while believing in the value of them will make them work better and faster.

The placebo effect isn’t magic and it isn’t going to work for everything. Believing someone will drop a million dollars in your lap isn’t going to make it happen, but never underestimate the power of the mind when it comes to mastering your own body. The brain is capable of releasing endorphins to fight pain, ramp up immune function when needed, create hormones and enzymes to get things going in the right direction, and much more. Believe in that and let it do some amazing things for you and your health, fitness, and well-being.

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