Q: My sister has battled chronic pain for years. When she joined a clinical trial for a new pain reliever, her pain virtually disappeared. It turned out she was given a useless sugar pill a placebo. So was the pain all in her head?
GLADYS F., Atlanta
A: Great question! Actually, that useless sugar pill wasnt so useless; it demonstrated and we are enthusiastic believers in the power of the mind and spirit to transform lives and improve health. The placebo effect is proof that you have the mental power to alter your biochemistry (we now have the tools to measure a placebos effect and see that it is not self-delusion, its science).
Brain scans show that when a placebo eases pain (and it often does), your brain activity changes: Youre altering the biological process of pain response. One of our favorite examples is a group of people with irritable bowel syndrome who were told they were taking a placebo. After three weeks, 59 percent of them saw improvements in their symptoms that were as good as if theyd been taking powerful IBS medication. Seems being aware that placebos can trigger a positive mind/body response is enough to make them effective. No deception required. So dont make fun of your sisters experience with the placebo; instead, congratulate her on harnessing her inner powers of better health!
If you want to use your mind to improve your health, you dont need a sugar pill. Certain mind/body activities can ease a variety of symptoms and help you heal your body. Consciously cultivate optimism. Explore the good side of events and people around you. And reaffirm your own positive traits, actions and aspirations.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of The Dr. Oz Show, and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. To live your healthiest, visit sharecare.com.