The Power of Placebos and Visualisation

| February 19, 2014 | 0 Comments

A rare event occurred on Mon­day night; I had com­plete auton­omy over the tele­vi­sion, my son hav­ing gone upstairs to immerse him­self in the pro­duc­tion of his own ‘Super Hero’s Lego’ film clip, on his phone.  Lying back on the sofa, I flicked through the chan­nels; my eyes imme­di­ately engaged on BBC 2’s Hori­zon pro­gramme enti­tled ‘The Power of the Placebo’. The doc­u­men­tary was to explore why place­bos work, despite con­tain­ing no active ingre­di­ent, and how we can ben­e­fit from their hid­den power.

A sense of eupho­ria swept over my body, for this pro­gramme would undoubt­edly back up the con­cept behind In Mind In Body. “The sub­con­scious mind is able to affect more changes in the body and bring about more desired out­comes than most sci­en­tists yet know,” Dr Sandy Jost.

First off we were intro­duced to a group of elite British cham­pion cyclists, who Dr. Chris Beedie had brought together to test a ‘legal per­for­mance enhanc­ing drug’ to see if it would help them ride faster than ever before. They were requested to ride two sprint time trails, with 100% effort and 4 hours gap in between. The ‘enhanc­ing’ drug was given before the 2nd trail, what the cyclists did not realise was this was really only corn­flower in a cap­sule! A vast major­ity of the cyclists improved their times on the sec­ond sprint, some even set­ting per­sonal bests!

Dr. David Kallmes, a back sur­geon at St. Mary’s Hos­pi­tal in the States, uses a pro­ce­dure whereby sur­gi­cal cement is injected into cracked ver­te­bra to help relieve pain and increase move­ment. He noticed on very rare occa­sions that the wrong ver­te­brae were cemented and yet the patient still felt relief? He decided to design a trial of false oper­a­tions, some cemented, some not and yet of the 130 patients involved every­one showed improve­ment. Bon­nie, felt her life was trans­formed within a week, she was soon back play­ing golf with her hus­band and yet Bon­nie had had the placebo. What was most amaz­ing of all, a few years ear­lier Bon­nie had under­gone a real cement­ing of other ver­te­brae, and felt no dif­fer­ence between the procedures?

Next we were whisked to the top of Ital­ian Alps, to meet Pro­fes­sor Fab­rizio Benedetti (Uni­ver­sity of Turin) who uses low oxy­gen lev­els at high alti­tudes to con­duct his inves­ti­ga­tions, to test whether place­bos can cause real changes in the body. Sub­jects strapped with fake oxy­gen can­is­ters were requested to hike for 30 min­utes whilst their brain activ­ity, heart rate and neu­ro­trans­mit­ters were all mon­i­tor. Soon out pac­ing the sci­en­tists, the sub­jects dis­ap­peared into the dis­tance, their mus­cles work­ing with the ‘oxy­gen’ pro­vided, but in real­ity there was none. And yet their PGE2 pain mark­ers, still dropped, as if they had.

Even a Parkin­son patient, reliant on a daily dose of dopamine to walk and func­tion nor­mally, was given a placebo, which made the brain release dopamine just like the real drug. The pow­er­ful link between the mind and body is unde­ni­able; our thoughts and expec­ta­tions do cause chem­i­cal and phys­i­o­log­i­cal changes in our bodies.

Guided imagery/visualisation can work the same way. Sim­ply put it is a process of cre­at­ing a men­tal image or inten­tion of what you desire to hap­pen or feel, using multi-sensory input (taste, touch, smell, sight and hear­ing) so with PRACTICE (con­tin­ual rehearsal) the body can per­ceive it as an actual expe­ri­ence, and the body mind works together to bring it into con­scious awareness.

As Pro­fes­sor Angus Dal­gleish acknowl­edged, the state of an individual’s mind does affect their immune sys­tem and becom­ing pos­i­tive does make a dif­fer­ence. Guided visu­al­i­sa­tion can help peo­ple to ‘change’ what their mind is think­ing enough so that they have a dif­fer­ent out­come asso­ci­ated with their health.

Visu­al­i­sa­tion is a tech­nique pro­grammed into most elite ath­letes train­ing sched­ules, not only to improve their skill, but also to aid heal­ing and recov­ery after train­ing, as well cov­er­ing the psy­cho­log­i­cal aspects of a given situation/experience dur­ing per­for­mance. It gives them belief and serves to ful­fil their expec­ta­tions. ‘It’s an incred­i­bly pow­er­ful tech­nique we all need to learn,’ Sally Gun­nell OBE, Olympic Gold medallist.

Visu­al­i­sa­tion whilst widely accepted in the world of sport; can also help in heal­ing, health and well-being.  You can effec­tively bring some­thing into being, through repet­i­tive thought. Neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis ( birth of neu­rons) is FACT, it is not wish­ful think­ing. Our brains are never sta­tic; we are con­stantly pro­duc­ing new brain cells. The cells with their synap­tic con­nec­tions sim­ply ‘lis­ten’ for 21 days before they talk, hence why peo­ple say ‘it takes 21 days to learn a habit’. Decid­ing where you focus your atten­tion, decides where the neu­ron is placed. Sleep, healthy nutri­tion and exer­cise also help the brain to learn, how­ever being aware of quite ‘what’ you are focus­ing on helps too. Are you attract­ing the right intention?

In order for place­bos to work, do peo­ple need to be deceived into believ­ing they are real? Pro­fes­sor Ted Kaptchuk , from Har­vard Uni­ver­sity worked with a group of patients suf­fer­ing from irri­ta­ble bowel syn­drome. They were told the med­ica­tion was a placebo; how­ever they might work due to their own self heal­ing. Indeed in many cases they did. The very fact they had seen a physi­cian, taken pills daily allowed the body to know ‘some­thing’ was being done.

The con­cepts of hyp­no­sis and place­bos over­lap; once more they are based upon belief, expec­ta­tion and sug­ges­tion. A hyp­nother­a­pist, who was also a den­tist, hyp­no­tised his patient to enable him to extract a wis­dom tooth with no anaes­thetic. The patient was able to acti­vate his own inter­nal pain killing sys­tems, through sug­ges­tion. He held belief and expec­ta­tion in the out­come and his dentist.

Unlock­ing our bod­ies poten­tial to self heal, will con­tinue to be inves­ti­gated. Offer­ing a per­son with can­cer or any other debil­i­tat­ing ill­ness, HOPE to enable them to become more POSITIVE makes a HUGE dif­fer­ence to their out­comes. At In Mind In Body we have aimed to do just that.


Category: Inspire

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