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The placebo effect is a target of ridicule but studies show it has become increasingly effective in recent years, particularly in the United States, where drugs for pain, depression, anxiety sometimes barely outmatch placebos.

Fortunately, researchers have decided to study how and why the placebo effect works.

By embracing the mystery of the placebo effect, you can harness its powers to enhance your health protocol or better cope with your ailment.

What is the placebo effect?

Researchers give one group of subjects a new drug or procedure and a different group a sham, then compare the results. Neither group knows which treatment they received. In some studies, the placebo treatment works as well or even better than the real treatment.

1: Use belief to enhance placebo effect

A person’s beliefs and expectations play a profound role in how their body will respond to something. When subjects are told their pain will drop before receiving a placebo, it does. Likewise, when they are told they will experience more pain, they do, even though pain delivery was not increased.

Scans during these experiments show brain activity corresponds with the expected outcome, even though neither pain relief nor increased pain was delivered.

Scientists have also learned that positive expectations release endorphins and dopamine, the “reward” brain chemical. Endorphins dampen inflammation and both endorphins and dopamine help relieve pain.

Spend some time every day reaffirming why you’re on your health journey and the positive things you expect to gain from it. Visualize feeling and functioning better.

2: Receive care and attention to enhance placebo

Increased attention, concern, and care are also believed to be why the placebo effect has become much stronger in recent years. When people take part in these studies, they receive an increased level of interaction and care that positively impacts their health.

Seek out supportive care and nurturing during your health journey. This can be from a practitioner you work with, through body work appointments, or in the company of a support group or class. Include plenty of in-person social time as it is better for you than online socializing.

3: Develop a positivity and gratitude practice

Negativity is stressful and inflammatory. Doctors report that patients who are angry, don’t believe their treatment will work, or who are not supported by their friends and family in their healing journey may not experience optimal results.

However, the person who expects the best from their protocol, learns about their new diet and supplements, and enjoys working with their practitioner experiences less stress and inflammation and better results.

Take some time each day to think positive thoughts about your health journey and what it involves. Keep a daily or weekly gratitude journal and make sure to note your progress. These tips really do help your health!

Remember, it’s the placebo effect and not superstition

Although we’ve all heard miracle healing stories, it’s best not to pin your hopes on one. The placebo effect alone is estimated to work between 18 to 80 percent of the time, which is a wide spread to bank on.

Functional medicine is about creating new lifelong habits as much as it is about restoring function. By injecting the best the placebo effect has to offer into your daily diet and protocol, you are laying the groundwork for a lifetime of more positive outcomes.

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322 use placebo effect to benefit

The placebo effect—when a sham treatment produces desired results—is the bane of science, sometimes skewing results and outperforming pharmaceutical drugs. But instead of cursing the placebo effect, why not put it to use? Although it disrupts some studies, in other studies researchers look to understand why and how it works. By understanding the placebo effect as a valid phenomenon, you can employ it to improve your own health outcomes.

How the placebo effect works

The placebo effect happens in studies in which one group of participants is given a new drug or procedure, one group is given a sham drug (such as a sugar pill), and the results are compared. Neither group knows whether they received the sham treatment or the real drug. In some cases the placebo effect is nearly as good and sometimes even better than the actual treatment.

Why? A person’s beliefs and expectations about a treatment play a significant role in how they respond physiologically. In one study, participants’ pain dropped when they were told they received more of a pain-relief drug even though they hadn’t. Their pain then rose considerably when they were told the medication had been stopped, even though it hadn’t. MRI scans showed the expectation of pain activated the pain networks in the brain. This is an example of the nocebo effect, the placebo effect’s evil twin. In the nocebo effect a negative belief causes a negative outcome.

Putting the placebo effect to work for you

You can enhance or diminish your own results of a health protocol with your belief systems. The person who doesn’t believe in their treatment, thinks their dietary prescription is bogus, and their supplements are all a waste of money is going to set into motion neurochemical responses that work against his or her success. Also, having a negative and pessimistic attitude promotes stress and inflammation, two considerable barriers to healing.

However, the person who believes in their health protocol, understands the effect of their supplements and diet, and enjoys working with their practitioner is creating a positive neurochemical response. This is because an optimistic attitude lowers stress and inflammation and promotes health.

Of course, the placebo effect doesn’t have a perfect track record; it’s estimated to work between 18 to 80 percent of the time as many other factors can influence health. And many drugs, supplements, and treatments are obviously powerful enough to influence outcomes regardless of the placebo effect. However, the mechanisms behind the placebo effect are important to consider.

Tips for activating the placebo effect to enhance your protocol

  • Believe in what you’re doing. Educate yourself about your diet, your supplements, lifestyle changes, and so forth. If you know why you’re doing something, it’s easier to believe in it.
  • Develop a positivity habit. A positive attitude, expecting the best, and enjoying your health habits will reduce stress and inflammation while triggering the release of your body’s own feel-good chemicals, which foster good health.
  • Develop relationships that encourage good health. Surround yourself with likeminded people who believe in and practice the same healthy habits. Be wary of people who dwell on the negative and are practicing the nocebo effect.
  • Ask my office for nutritional therapy tips in boosting your ability to feel positive so you can use the placebo effect to your benefit.

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