Some thoughts on the placebo effect
David Ashley
May 4, 2007

If someone is sick or suffering from some malady and you give them a pill and tell them it will make them better, oftentimes their condition will improve -- even if the pill is some neutral compound like talcum powder that is intentionally designed to have no effect. This is called the placebo effect. Merely by believing something will cure you often results in benefits.

I think it's commonly stated that no one knows why this is. I'd like to offer an explanation, it's probably not new but I haven't heard it stated before. My thinking is that it's related to the fact that stress, anxiety, worry and depression all seem to negatively affect health and well being. People who are depressed and anxious seem to get cancer more frequently. If you're stressed, your immune system suffers.

It may be that these effects are more understood. I can imagine that while experiencing stress and anxiety the body might be pumping out adrenaline. This has the effect of pumping up your system, in the fight-or-flight reflex manner. Under stressful and anxious conditions, you need to be ready to go into action. What might be life sustaining in the short term (the fight-or-flight response allows you to run when confronted by something dangerous, or to attack something when you need to) might have a detrimental effect in the long term.

So my theory about the placebo effect is that it's actually not making someone healthier, instead it's calming them down so their stress and anxiety levels are reduced. If someone believes they're going to get well, that has a soothing, calming effect. They don't need to worry about it anymore. This belief would tend to reduce the stress and anxiety, and with it also eliminate their harmful effects.

That's it. Not much to it. Thanks for reading!

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