Is Healing All in Our Mind?
survey of doctors from the U.S. finds that nearly two out of
three believe it is permissible to use placebos, and one out
of two U.S. doctors prescribe placebos to their patients. Surveys
of physicians in Israel, Denmark, and Great Britain reveal similar
findings. This research, published in the British Medical
Journal (BMJ), has prompted well-known author Sally Satel,
M.D., to comment on a recent Op/Ed page of the Wall Street
Journal that the extent of the use of placebos is “disquieting,
However, when recent studies revealed that prescription
anti-depressants worked only as well as placebos, the Wall
Street Journal reported on the efforts of pharmaceutical
companies to “harness placebos” as part of their
current research and development.
indicated that placebos are effective up to 70% of the time.
A review of many prescription drugs reveal efficacy rates much
lower than that of the placebo. The practice of medicine
in the U.S. is often prescription- and procedure-driven. Placebos
provide an opportunity to integrate the mind-body connection
into the practice of medicine, and to harness its health benefits.
“Alternative” systems of healthcare like Traditional
Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda have thousands of years
of time-tested use compared to the relatively young allopathic
medicine (less than 100 years old). These systems of healthcare
(not disease care) focus on health as a balance of physical,
emotional, and spiritual health. As Dr. Satel points out, “Physicians
who use placebos carefully recognize that the practical value
of faith must neither be underestimated nor dismissed….If
patients suffer less…it is worth finding out.”
Integrative medicine has been dismissed time and again as “the
placebo response.” Chelation? Oh, it’s just a placebo.
Homeopathy? Again, it’s just a placebo. Yet patients now
flock to the doors of integrative physicians who brave the ire
of their state medical boards to offer health programs based
upon natural approaches and physical, emotional, and spiritual
balance. They know that the mind-body connection is vital to
a patient’s health. Treating patients by merely “following
the numbers” of cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure,
and PSA readings, appears to be significantly less effective
and fails the test of scientific scrutiny more often than does
a more holistic, integrative approach.
The recent discussion in the November 2008 issue of Consumer
Reports on Health by a professor at the Massey Cancer Center
at Virginia Commonwealth University mentioned the use of “palliative
chemotherapy.” This means chemotherapy not to cure but
to appear to cure. That is disconcerting at best, given the
extreme potential toxicity of chemotherapy.
Before even thinking about using poisons such as chemotherapy
as a placebo, we should read the
Institute of Noetic Sciences’s Spontaneous Remission,
an Annotated Bibliography. This is a humbling tribute
to what we have yet to learn. No wonder millions of Americans
seek the advice and counsel of integrative physicians who are
open to learning new science and new ways to harness the body’s
ability to heal itself.