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Pick Your Placebo

Pick Your Placebo

For four years, since Tricia Barrett first introduced me to the merits of drinking green juice as a dietary supplement, I’ve been drinking 4 or 5 fresh green veggie juices daily. These juices – painstakingly extracted from kale, celery, cucumber, sprouts, parsley, lemon, and ginger – have been my medicine, keeping my weight stable, my blood pressure low, and my immune system strong enough to fight even the viruses that infect my whole family.

But then, about a month ago, my assistant April (who, bless her heart, makes my green juice for me) had to leave town. And my husband was working 12 hour days at his new job, so he couldn’t help out. And I was busy seeing mentoring clients and recording the audio version of my upcoming book Mind Over Medicine. So the green juice never got made, and I didn’t drink green juice for a whole week, something that hasn’t happened for four years.

Lo and behold – I got flattened with a nasty cold.

Green Juice As My Gospel

It got me thinking. Now I firmly believe that my green juice will keep my healthy. My daughter brings home viruses from her school regularly. At one point this winter, over half of her school was out sick – but I stayed healthy. I credit my daily green juice, and praise it often. In fact, every day, when I imbibe my first dose of green medicine, I thank the vegetables for keeping my body fit and healthy and strong.

You might say I worship at the altar of green juice. I have complete, unshakeable faith in its magic and can be found prosthelytizing about it frequently. In fact, I even bring coolers of my green juice to my mentoring sessions with clients so I can introduce them to it, show them how yummy it tastes, hopefully convert them. You might say I’m a true believer.

Panacea or Placebo?

Now that I’m finally recovered from the fog of my cold and pondering the research I gathered for my upcoming book Mind Over Medicine, I have to wonder whether it’s really the vitamins, enzymes, alkaline goodness, and hydration of my daily green juice that keeps me from getting sick.

Or might it be my unshakeable faith in its power to heal me?

After extensively researching the placebo effect, I now know that positive belief that something will cure an illness or prevent you from getting sick – even if it’s just a sugar pill, a saline injection or a fake surgery – activates a cascade of healing hormones in the brain that triggers a real physiological phenomenon.

Psychology or Physiology?

Each time I grab my mason jar full of green veggie juice, I fill my body with vitamins, enzymes, and other nutrients that support my body. But my green juice also serves another function. Because I place so much faith in my green juice, every time I drink it, my mind enjoys the thought that I am healing myself.

This thought signals my hypothalamus to shut off the “fight-or-flight” stress response that health fears can trigger, thereby reducing potentially harmful stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine, which causes my blood pressure to drop, my pulse to slow down, and my muscles to relax. Doing so also stimulates my hypothalamus and pituitary gland to secrete the bonding hormone oxytocin, nature’s morphine beta-endorphins, and other healing chemicals like nitric oxide and dopamine that activate the body’s innate self-healing mechanisms and ramp up my immune system.

Because I believe green juice heals me – voila! It does.

I’m not suggesting it isn’t also full of nutrition my body needs. It’s no sugar pill or saline injection. It’s full of juicy goodness nobody can deny. But what if that’s only a piece of its benefit? After all, I’m not aware of any randomized, controlled, double-blind clinical trial comparing outcomes of those who drink green juice with those who drink water dyed green. (Quick! Someone – do this study, puh-lease! I’m dying to know…)

What’s Your Placebo?

Many of us imbue such meaning into a variety of health-inducing factors in our lives. Maybe you’re a die-hard believer in eating chia seeds every day. Maybe you faithfully chomp on Echinacea all throughout flu season.

When I asked this question on my Facebook page, I found out that you all swear by your alkaline water filter, your raw cacao powder, your medicinal mushrooms, your Usana vitamins, your essential oils, your rose petal tea, your cayenne, your acai berries, your vegetarian diet, and yes… you believe in your green juice too!

You also swear by your affirmations, your positive thinking, your yoga, your meditation, your joy, and a variety of other health-inducing practices which science proves reduce the body’s stress responses and elicit the counterbalancing relaxations responses.

And don’t forget – when the body’s physiological stress response is activated, your natural self-repair mechanisms get flipped off. Only when your nervous system is in a state of physiological rest can the body heal itself.

Who Cares How It Works?

So is it really the green juice – or the fancy water or the supplements or the superfoods – that keep you healthy and heal you when you’re sick?

I can’t say for sure. But if it’s working for you, who cares?

What I can say is this. My assistant got home, made my green juice, I gulped down 6 of them, and 24 hours later, the symptoms that had plagued me for a week were gone.


Call it what you will… I’m off to grab another green juice.

Pick Your Placebo

I believe it’s health-inducing to have a daily health practice – whatever it may be. If nothing else, my green juice is a daily reminder that I care for my body, that my health matters to me, that I’ve devoted myself to its wellness, and that my body knows how to fight illness if I care for it wholly.

What health practice do you have? Don’t have one? What might you implement?

To your health,

Lissa Rankin

Lissa Rankin, MD: Creator of the health and wellness communities and, author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself (Hay House, 2013), TEDx speaker, and Health Care Evolutionary. Join her newsletter list for free guidance on healing yourself, and check her out on Twitter and Facebook.


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Lissa Rankin

Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.  She is on a grassroots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.  Lissa blogs at and also created two online communities - and She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.


+ add your own
4:56PM PST on Mar 8, 2013


8:15AM PST on Mar 7, 2013


7:50AM PST on Mar 7, 2013

Fascinating again... the fruits of one's own labours...?

4:38AM PST on Mar 7, 2013

Interesting article.

11:31PM PST on Mar 6, 2013

When you come right down to it, life itself is a placebo. Nothing is truly as it seems.

9:59PM PST on Mar 6, 2013

post the recipe please : )

9:39PM PST on Mar 6, 2013


8:40PM PST on Mar 6, 2013

Really, if you have been drinking such health-promoting drinks for so long, your immune system should have been able to resist a cold, even if you didn't drink them for a week.

In this case, it seems it was also acting as a placebo for you. That's OK, but maybe you could have more faith in your body's own defence mechaism.

6:37PM PST on Mar 6, 2013

thank you

6:00PM PST on Mar 6, 2013


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