What is the ‘Placebo Effect’ and has it been misinterpreted?

A ‘mind-body’ phenomenon that I studied in my medical training is the “placebo effect”. In short, it is the effect that occurs when a person receives a fake treatment but experiences a real positive result. In a clinical study, researchers often randomise study (clinical trial) participants in 2 or more groups (also known as ‘arms’). One group is given the drug, while the other is given a placebo (fake drug, usually a sugar pill or fake injection). Researchers then compare the rate of clinical improvement in the group that took the real drug vs. the group that took the sugar pill.

The difference in positive results between the real drug group and the fake drug (placebo) group is determined to be the actual beneficial effect of the drug. In almost every study, some people in the placebo group still get a real beneficial effect, despite only receiving a sugar pill or an injection of water! It is thought that this effect came from the person’s mind, and it is called the placebo effect. During my time as one of the Medical Directors at Pfizer in Australia, I was the appointed medical expert for Viagra. When I was involved in Viagra clinical trials, some studies had approximately 30% who reported improvements in the fake drug arm. This placebo response in 30% of people who took pretty much nothing means that their minds created a real benefit for the study participant. This mentally stimulated response can vary greatly in various studies across different medical conditions but is almost always present in EVERY clinical trial.

Now whilst the medical community has always paid attention to the ‘real effect’ in the real drug arm and dismissed the Placebo Effect as an aberration of some sort, what we should have been doing is ask the question – “Hang on a minute, how did 30% of participants IMPROVE their sexual performance with absolutely NO DRUGS whatsoever?” How did these people heal their erectile dysfunction, just by their mind ‘thinking and feeling’ that they were going to get better?

This is the radical yet proven perspective on how our MINDS (conscious and subconscious thoughts and emotions) feed our energetic system. Our minds can make you ill or help you heal yourself. Similar theories in human biology have connected thoughts, emotions and health. For example,  when you are stressed, your body releases stress hormones like cortisol which can affect all your systems and organs. These stress responses from conflict, anger and anxiety can cause disruptive changes in the functioning of your heart and immune system leading to illness.

Even specific emotions have been indirectly associated with a number of diseases. Studies from the University of Maryland Medical Center have found that unconsciously being defensive, restricting our emotions or feelings of hopelessness can result in medical consequences such as high blood pressure. How a person manages their emotions can also affect how long they survive with a chronic illness. In addition, hostile attitudes may increase your risk for coronary heart disease, obesity (especially around the waist), insulin resistance (which can lead to diabetes), and abnormal cholesterol (specifically, high triglycerides and low levels of high density lipoprotein or HDL – the good kind of cholesterol).

Have you ever met a hostile person that seemed happy, healthy and performing well at their job? I gather you haven’t and neither have I. We may have a pre-conceived notion that terrorists, wrestlers and even military personnel require aggression to perform well at their function, yet the opposite is true. Being calm and centred is far more effective even in activities requiring physical aggression, ask any genuine master of Kung Fu, which is more focussed on self defence.

If we continue to purely use the western framework of illness which merely considers the physical body (based on biology and chemistry) and ignores the energetic body (based on quantum physics), then we limit ourselves from our overall healing potential and our ability to achieve peak performance. There is an obvious signal on how modern science is beginning to clarify the connection between emotions and illness – the picture becomes clearer and more complete when it is viewed from an energy perspective as well.  Overall, I was now able to connect parallel information from what I learnt in medical school, my experience in medical research as well as my initial literature review on the body’s energy system.

Despite all these learnings, the thing that convinced me the most was my own personal experience with an energy shift and how I felt afterward. Once I had that experience, I needed to know how it works. I also wanted to know what else was out there in terms of methods of shifting energy from all the different cultures around the world. My journey into connecting the bigger picture continued with my understanding how energy methods can actually heal and transform a person’s life. Energy was the connection that helped me understand this mysterious ‘placebo effect’.

Have you ever experienced the ‘placebo effect’ with yourself or someone you know?