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Do We Have the Power To Heal Ourselves?

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In Wired Magazine, writer Steve Silberman, wrote an article in August of 2009 entitled, “Placebos Are Getting More Effective, Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why.” This is quite an eye-opening article. I find it amazing to think that Big Pharma has actually been worried about the lowly little placebo for a very long time and I thought it might be interesting to share a bit of it what is happening in order to take a serious look at it.

Many people do not even know where the term ‘placebo effect’ comes from. But in truth it can be traced to a little white lie, according to Silberman, who tells the story of an Army nurse during World War II in Italy who was assisting an anesthetist named Henry Beecher, who was caring for our US troops under German bombardment. When their morphine supply had trickled down to nothing, this nurse assured a wounded soldier, that he was getting a shot of a potent painkiller, though her syringe was loaded only with, saline solution (salt water). Amazingly, the bogus injection relieved the soldier’s excruciating pain and kept him from going into shock!

Beecher returned ultimately to Harvard and became one of the USA’s leading medical reformers. He was so inspired by the nurse’s clever ruse, that he launched a crusade to promote a method of testing new medicines to find out whether they were truly effective. At the time, the process for testing the efficacy of drugs was not very good. Pharmaceutical companies would simply give volunteers some experimental agent of some sort until the side effects would overcome the presumed benefits. Beecher proposed that if test subjects could be compared to a group that received a placebo (a sugar pill), health officials would finally have an impartial way to determine whether a medicine was actually responsible for making a patient better.

The placebo plot thickened; in a 1955 paper entitled “The Powerful Placebo,” which was published in “The Journal of the American Medical Association,” Beecher described how the ‘placebo effect’ had undermined the results of more than a dozen trials by causing improvement that was mistakenly attributed to the drugs being tested. He demonstrated that trial volunteers who got real medication were also subject to placebo effects; the act of taking a pill was itself somehow therapeutic, boosting the curative power of the medicine. Only by subtracting the improvement in a placebo control group could the actual value of the drug be calculated.

The article caused a sensation. By 1962, the news of birth defects caused by the drug, Thalidomide, and its tragic consequences were of such monumental proportions, they hit every front page of America’s Newspapers. The only silver lining of this horror story was that it caused Congress to amend the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, requiring trials to include enhanced safety testing and placebo control groups. Volunteers would be assigned randomly to receive either medicine or a sugar pill, and neither doctor nor patient would know the difference until the trial was over.

Beecher’s double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial—or RCT—was enshrined as the gold standard of the emerging pharmaceutical industry. Today, to win FDA approval, a new medication must beat placebo in at least two authenticated trials. The question now can be carefully posed…are they worth the paper they are printed on? Why you might ask? Because, even the color of the pills in these studies is at play; yellow is the best for antidepressants as it is like a little dose of sunshine, red pills provide a stimulating effect and give you a kick in the behind, green and perhaps even blue, add a bit of chill to the pill, and white are more soothing to the gut, particularly as an antacid even if they only contain lactose (milk sugar).

It also seems that more pills are better so that if you take your placebo several times a day you get better results and if your pills are embossed with a name brand like Tylenol, the name branding on them seems to make them work better than generic, even if the person offering the tablet to the user, says they are the same! Now how about that? Can we see the power that we each hold in our own belief systems!

It is true, that Beecher in fact did help to cure the medical establishment of its own brand of quackery, but it had a really big side effect – it cast the lowly little placebo as the villain in RCTs, and Beecher ended up stigmatizing one of his most important discoveries. The fact that even dummy capsules can kick-start the body’s recovery engine have now become a problem for drug developers to overcome, rather than a phenomenon that could guide doctors toward a better understanding of the healing process of our miraculous bodies and how to drive it most effectively into perhaps healing itself. Where would the ‘big bucks’ be in that?

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Celeste Yarnall

Celeste Yarnall, PhD shares musings on myriad of topics at her Celestial Musings Blog. She is the author of The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care with Jean Hofve, DVM and Paleo Dog. Celeste is an actress/producer/activist/writer and keynote speaker. She and her husband Nazim Artist created the Art of Wellness Collection and are the producers of Femme: Women Healing the World. They live in Los Angeles, California with their beloved Tonkinese cats. Join Celeste at her website or on Facebook.

397 comments

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5:26AM PDT on Aug 12, 2012

Thanks.

4:01AM PST on Feb 15, 2012

I believe that we have the power to heal ourselves. Just use your mind :)
That's what i do when I'm sick!

1:47PM PST on Feb 2, 2012

Thanks!

1:39PM PST on Jan 20, 2012

I am a healer and nutritionist and I can say that yes absolutely we can heal ourselves. It is what we are designed to do. The body is such a finely tuned instrument with its own inner physician that has an incredible wisdom and its job is to repair, detoxify, regenerate and heal the body constantly. The only thing is these days we bombard the body with all sorts of toxins, antibiotics and medicines, stress and take it to a state of malnourishment and kill off the very micro-organisms that keep our inner physician working. By turning around our diet and restoring ourselves to the 90% beneficial microbes that we should have, which will then allow the body to detox, we can repair/ heal the inner physician with will in turn heal our bodies. Then there is the other perspective of our own spirit/soul life which too has one mission and that is to bring us into a state of healed wholeness. The ups and downs of life are there to wake us up, illness gives us the opportunity to wake up and by becoming aware we can drop the issues which can play out as physical manifestations too and so too heal ourselves. Even if someone has met their time and passes over....that too is a healing. If you would like to delve into this more ....www.awarehealing.com :-)

6:37AM PST on Jan 20, 2012

We certainly do have a phenomenal ability to heal ourselves naturally from many, many illnesses. I am presently making a TV documentary series about people who have already or are overcoming illnesses where the prognosis was "incurable" or "terminal". I have come across many phenomenal healing stories but recoveries from illnesses that western medicine has deemed hopeless, I find really fascinating & convincing of our innate healing potential,
In my experience there are quite a lot of different keys that enable people to make remarkable recoveries & these are not always the same for different people, even with the same illness. Hopefully, we will people to show this in the documentary.
:-)
(For information about the documentary, go to: www.fb.com/incrediblehealingstories or www.imaginalfilms.co.uk )

11:45AM PST on Jan 17, 2012

It's a healthy thing to question the health care delivery system, especially if/when it's based in a profit motive entirely. I believe we do indeed have some measure of ability to heal ourselves; but, of course, present day medical system has no interest in this phenomenon because there is no money in it for them. I have a standing "doctor's order" to stay away from all medical & drug establishments as much as possible; because their bottom line is profit incentive not patient well-being. Thanks for this thought provoking article! To Big Pharma & our modern day "blood letters" I'd like to say: "Physician, heal thyself!"

6:52PM PST on Jan 15, 2012

Thanks.

7:48AM PST on Jan 15, 2012

I believe that we do indeed have the power to heal ourselves - up to a certain point. We still need some kind of medicine, though.

7:23AM PST on Jan 13, 2012

Thanks.

3:57PM PST on Jan 12, 2012

Thanks for posting.

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people are talking

Thank you for the article!

It's true, doctors have lost their position and status of being like a god because of this and that.…

Agree Ana R often they will tell you what they want. Dangerous Spammer flagged.

Like music while I work but quiet in the home

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