Does the way we think affect our health? And if so, how?
Two main points to consider, which are regularly discussed in the work of Dr. Lissa Rankin, are the phenomena of Placebo and Nocebo.
thefreedictionary.com defines Placebo as:
a. A substance that has positive effects as a result of a patient’s perception that it is beneficial rather than as a result of a causative ingredient.
b. An inactive substance or preparation used as a control in an experiment or test to determine the effectiveness of a medicinal drug.
” In the 1700s, placebo began to be used of prescriptions written by a physician solely to please a patient, as by satisfying the patient’s desire to take medicine.
In many cases, the patient would actually benefit, thanks to what became known as the placebo effect.
Later, placebo came to refer to neutral substances used in controlled studies testing the effectiveness of medications.”
WebMD says “Research on the placebo effect has focused on the relationship of mind and body. One of the most common theories is that the placebo effect is due to a person’s expectations.
If a person expects a pill to do something, then it’s possible that the body’s own chemistry can cause effects similar to what a medication might have caused.”
Dr. Lissa Rankin, in an article on psychologytoday.com discusses the negative implications that this phenomenon could have on a persons health.
“But the placebo effect has a shadow side. The same mind-body power that can heal you can also harm you. When patients in double-blinded clinical trials are warned about the side effects they may experience if they’re given the real drug, approximately 25% experience sometimes severe side effects, even when they’re only taking sugar pills…
Interestingly, these nocebo complaints aren’t random; they tend to arise in response to the side effect warnings on the actual drug or treatment.
The mere suggestion that a patient may experience negative symptoms in response to a medication (or a sugar pill) may be a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
merriamwebster.com defines Nocebo as
“a harmless substance that when taken by a patient is associated with harmful effects due to negative expectations or the psychological condition of the patient.
Latin, I will be harmful; after placebo”
These two examples clearly illustrate that the way we interpret information that is provided to us or the way we think about this information, can have a very profound effect on our health.
In her blog (found here http://lissarankin.com/scientific-proof-that-negative-beliefs-harm-your-health) Dr. Rankin specifies that you CAN think yourself sick.
She concludes “the nocebo effect demonstrates the physiological effects of negative belief, fear, anxiety, and what Martin Seligman terms “learned helplessness.”
These negative emotions trigger the amygdala in the limbic brain to send out a red alert that activates the “fight-or-flight” stress response. And as I describe in great detail in Mind Over Medicine,
when the nervous system is in “fight-or-flight,” the body’s self-repair mechanisms don’t function properly and the body is predisposed to illness. All because you thought yourself sick.”
A specific example of this is frequently seen in medical students all over the world. It’s is an occurrence that has been coined “Medical Student Syndrome’, where new medical students start to portray the symptoms of the disease they are studying.
Other examples of how mental orientation may have a positive or negative effect on our health, is our sense of enjoyment for life. To interpret the root cause of their illnesses,
Dr. Lissa Rankin encourages her clients to use a method of self-diagnosis that she calls “The Whole Health Cairn”, which includes assessment of many lifestyle factors including career, relationships, and sexuality.
She includes all of these factors in her method of health assessment due to the understanding that our choice in lifestyle can play a major part in contributing to how much stress we experience,
or how well we are able to manage that stress. It is well documented and researched that stress has a significant impact on our health.
Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that the way that we perceive our lifestyle or the way that we think about our living situation plays a large part in contributing to our overall wellbeing.