Be the placebo effect the world needs


Can a positive outlook truly make a difference? It’s something I’ve always been curious about. Can you really be happier by simply TRYING to be happier? Can you be more successful by BELIEVING you can be?

This past May I traveled to a fitness conference to mingle with professionals and see what the latest exercise research is, and let me tell you, it was fascinating. I went there to learn more about my specific field of research, nitric oxide and nitrate supplementation, but since the studies in that area were somewhat lacking, I ventured out to explore other areas. One of the best talks I went to was about the placebo effect, and that talk has truly reshaped how I view research, exercise and motivation.

So for those of you unfamiliar with the term, a placebo is something presented as a real treatment that is in reality a “fake.” A placebo effect is when someone is given a placebo but still has a response (positive or negative) to the fake treatment. The response can be the same or opposite of the real treatment.

The studies presented on this topic were just incredibly eye opening. One described a situation where patients were in a hospital and were going to be given pain medication. Both groups got the pain medication, but one had a doctor come in, present the drug, and explain how it should help, while the other group was given the drug without their knowledge via a slow drip controlled by a machine. So, both groups got the drug, but when the patients were asked to report their pain level over a period of a few hours, those that had the doctor injected drug saw a significant decrease in pain, while the people who unknowingly had the drug injected reported no decrease in pain. Wait, what??

If both groups got the drug—this pain controlling drug—why didn’t both groups experience a decrease in pain? This goes to show just how powerful the mind truly is, and really this situation is proving how little the drug actually does. If the drug was the cause of the decrease in pain, then BOTH groups should have reported less pain, and yet only the group that had the doctor reassurance saw a decrease. The positive reinforcement from a doctor decreased a person’s sense of pain, not the drug.

As far as medicine has come, our mind is far more powerful. And as powerful as our mind is, encouragement and positive reinforcement are perhaps even more influential. So how does this apply to the world outside of medicinal drugs? Well, what if all someone needs to make it through the next squat is your reassurance that they can? What if all they need to get past a tragedy are your words of understanding and sympathy? If that’s the case, your words just became crucial to someone else’s success. And conversely, your words could equally assist in someone’s failure.

Live life positive. Think about the cans and not the can’ts, and share them with those around you. Be that positive placebo effect for your friends and family. Even when you have nothing to offer but words, you can help reassure them and give them the strength and confidence they need for that positive life change. Words cost you nothing and yet the right ones can change everything.


****This post is not meant to suggest that drugs are ineffective or to spark debate on their use. In many instances, medicinal intervention is the best option. I’m just trying to suggest that they are not the ONLY option.


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