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The Truth About The Placebo Effect
The Strange Powers of the Brain
The brain is, in a sense, the vehicle through which we perceive and experience reality. Every physical sensation, emotion and physiological response is generated by neurochemical compounds produced by and released from the brain. Some of these chemicals are associated with feelings of pleasure, like dopamine. Others, like endorphins, help give you a boost of energy and help dull pain during physical activity, and might generate a pleasant sensation as well (this is what causes a g“runner’s high”). Serotonin plays a huge role in regulating emotions, and imbalances of this hormone can influence the risk and severity of forms of depression and other mood disorders.
There are also specific regions of the brain which are associated with specific moods and emotional and physiological functions. It’s the interplay of all these factors that generate how we feel at any given time.
What does all this have to do with the placebo effect? Well, it’s precisely these neurochemical actions that could be what creates the effect in the first place. According to a recent article published by Harvard Medical School, the brain can release pain-numbing endorphins and other chemicals and improve symptoms, in some cases to the point where it can be as effective as an actual real treatment. If the brain believes that you have received a real medicine, it will, to some degree, actually cause the effects of that medication to manifest themselves.
The placebo effect isn’t confined only to medications, however. One study, published in 2002 in the New England Journal of Medicine, detailed an incredible case in which patients with severe knee pain received a “fake” surgery prior to beginning physical therapy. The surgeons simply made some incisions and cleaned them, then sewed them back up. Incredibly, the patients who received the fake surgery performed just as well in therapy as the patients who received real surgery on their knees.
More research needs to be done to fully understand the placebo effect, but the findings of the research so far speaks volumes about the power of the human brain to overcome illness and injury, or even manifest physical phenomena. There really is a lot of truth in that old expression “mind over matter.”