The interaction of our thoughts with the physical material world is of huge interest today, garnering increasing attention by academics around the world. Despite a wealth of scientific data showing that one can influence the other, and even more evidence proving that certain emotional states can lead to chronic illness, many who work in mainstream medicine remain entirely ignorant of these concepts.

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Perhaps this is why more and more people are gravitating towards alternative forms of medicine. As Garth Cook from Scientific American points out:

A growing body of scientific research suggests that our mind can play an important role in healing our body — or in staying healthy in the first place. . . There are now several lines of research suggesting that our mental perception of the world constantly informs and guides our immune system in a way that makes us better able to respond to future threats. That was a sort of ‘aha’ moment for me — where the idea of an entwined mind and body suddenly made more scientific sense than an ephemeral consciousness that’s somehow separated from our physical selves.

The Research/Placebo

When it comes to learning about the mind-body connection and its relationship to our health, it can be difficult to choose a starting place amongst the vast and growing body of research; one of the best places to start, however, is the placebo effect, which demonstrates that the mind can create physiological changes in the body. Neuroscientist Fabrizio Benedetti explains:

There isn’t just one placebo effect, but many. Placebo painkillers can trigger the release of natural pain-relieving chemicals called endorphins. Patients with Parkinson’s disease respond to placebos with a flood of dopamine. Fake oxygen, given to someone at altitude, has been shown to cut levels of neurotransmitters called prostaglandins (which dilate blood vessels, among other things, and are responsible for many of the symptoms of altitude sickness.

The placebo effect is so wondrous because it unlocks the power of the mind; the biological changes observed in the body after administration of a placebo are not triggered by the placebo itself, but rather by our mind, by our perception, by our psychological response to these fake treatments.

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Despite intriguing results, research into the placebo effect has been limited. So far, only a few model systems have been investigated, like pain, depression, and Parkinson’s, but there is much more to be learned. One thing, however, does remain clear, and that is that we can change our biology simply by changing what we believe to be true. In his book The Biology of BeliefBruce Lipton, PhD, persuasively argues for further research into this untapped resource within ourselves:

The placebo effect should be the subject of major, funded research efforts. If medical researchers could figure out how to leverage the placebo effect, they would hand doctors an efficient, energy-based, side effect-free tool to treat disease. Energy healers say they already have such tools, but I am a scientist, and I believe the more we know about science of the placebo, the better we’ll be able to use it in a clinical setting.

Let’s take a look at a few more interesting studies that warrant further investigation into the matter. One great one is a Baylor School of Medicine study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2002. It looked at surgery for patients with severe and debilitating knee pain. Many surgeons know there is no placebo effect in surgery, or so most of them believe. The patients were divided into three groups. The surgeons shaved the damaged cartilage in the knee of one group. For the second group they flushed out the knee joint, removing all of the material believed to be causing inflammation. Both of these processes are the standard surgeries for people who have severely arthritic knees. The third group received a “fake” surgery; the patients were only sedated and tricked into believing they had had the knee surgery. Doctors simply made the incisions and splashed salt water on the knee as they would in normal surgery. They then sewed up the incisions like the real thing and the process was complete. All three then groups went through the same rehab process, with astonishing results: the placebo group improved just as much as the other two groups who had surgery. 

Dr Moseley, the surgeon involved in the study, made a bold comment, emphasizing that his “skill as a surgeon had no benefit on these patients,” and that “the entire benefit of surgery for osteoarthritis of the knee was the placebo effect.” (Lipton, Bruce. The Biology of Belief. Hay House, Inc, 2005)

Another very interesting example of a placebo technique used in medicine comes from researchers in Seattle, who have developed a virtual reality landscape known as ‘Snow World.’  In the game, the participant flies around inside an ice canyon shooting snowballs at other characters, theoretically distracting them from the pain of their physical body. Gareth Cook from Scientific American reports on his experience trying the game:

It’s mean meant to work as a painkiller: the idea is that the brain has a limited capacity for attention, so if the ice canyon commands that attention, there is less capacity left over for experiencing pain. When I tried Snow World, the researchers used a heated box to simulate a burn to my foot – it was quite painful outside the game, but once immersed, I had so much fun I barely noticed it. (source)

The technique was utilized to help burn victims deal with their sessions of wound treatment and physiotherapy, which can be extremely painful. In trials, researchers discovered that undergoing these therapy sessions while immersed in Snow World lessened patients’ pain by fifteen to fourty percent.

This, among other research, tells us that the brain plays an enormous role in the level of pain we feel. Cook explains:

So I think we’ve got our approach to pain all wrong. Our focus is almost exclusively on trying to banish it with drugs, which is incredibly costly and causes huge problems with side effects and addiction. Research like Snow World shows the potential of psychological approaches for treating pain: both to maximize the effectiveness of drugs and perhaps in some cases to replace them.

Another great example of the power of the placebo effect was demonstrated in a 1999 report by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The report discovered that half of severely depressed patients taking drugs improve compared to the thirty-two percent taking a placebo. Considering all of the dangers and side effects associated with antidepressants — not to mention how much pharmaceutical companies profit from their sale — this statistic seems an important one. If we can accomplish nearly as much with our minds alone, without harming our health or creating chemical dependencies, shouldn’t we be exploring that avenue first?

Yet in a study published in the British Medical Journal by researchers at the Nordic Cochrane Center in Copenhagen, it was revealed that pharmaceutical companies were not disclosing all information regarding the results of their drug trials. Researchers looked at documents from 70 different double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI) and found that the full extent of serious harm in clinical study reports went unreported. These are the reports sent to major health authorities like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. You can read more about that and access the studyhere.

A 2002 article published in the American Psychological Association’s Prevention & Treatment, by University of Connecticut Psychology Professor Irving Kirsch titled “The Emperor’s New Drugs,” made even more shocking discoveries. He found that 80 perecent of the effect of antidepressants, as measured in clinical trials, could be attributed to the placebo effect. This professor even had to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to get information on the clinical trials of the top antidepressants. (source)(source) “The difference between the response of the drugs and the response of the placebo was less than two points on average on this clinical scale that goes from fifty to sixty points. That’s a very small difference, that difference is clinically meaningless,” he reveals.

And the placebo effect is not just limited to depression. One trial found that patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) had much greater relief from their symptoms if the practitioner was warm and empathetic rather than cold but polite. Another found that patients with acid reflux disease did dramatically better after an extended consultation with a physician, compared to the usual quick go-around. From back pain to childbirth and more, many patient outcomes depend not just on what drugs are prescribed, but on how care is delivered.

There are even studies indicating that the mind plays a role in both cancer growth and recovery. In animal studies, for example, stress hormones make a range of cancers spread faster, and patient trials suggest that stress management interventions reduce inflammation. (source)

The list goes on and on,

Researchers all over the world have found that placebo treatments can stimulate real biological and physiological responses — everything from changes in heart rate to blood pressure and even chemical activity in the brain. It has been effective with a number of different ailments, from arthritis and Parkinson’s to depression, fatigue, anxiety, and more.

Beyond Placebo

The placebo effect is most commonly cited during discussions of the power of the mind-body connection, but there is a wealth of other data that also strengthens the argument. For example, studies have been conducted which investigate the influence of A’s intention on B’s physiological state — a process referred to as “remote intention.” They further examine the influence of A’s attention on B’s physiological state while A gazes at B over a 1 way video link, called “remote staring.” Last but not least, they study the influence of A’s intention on B’s attention or behaviour, which is referred to as “remote helping.”

The effects of distant mental interactions are measured using electrodermal activity, heart rate, blood volume pulse, and electrocortical activity (EEG electrodermal activity, heart rate, blood volume pulse, brain blood oxygenation [MRI], and electrogastrogram [EGG]).

These studies have yielded remarkable results which have since been successfully repeated in laboratories around the world. They actually hint at the possibility that another person’s mental attention could possibly have some sort of physiological effect on someone else.

For more information this, you can read the publication titled “Distant Healing Intention Therapies: An Overview of the Scientific Evidence.”

If our thoughts and intentions can actually affect physical systems, just imagine what our own thoughts and intentions could do to us.

If we look at it from a Quantum Mechanical perspective, factors associated with consciousness (measurement, observation, attention) have indeed influenced physical systems, which is why all of the pioneering and prominent figures in this field regarded consciousness fundamental, where matter is seen as a derivative from consciousness.

Then, we have studies published in peer-reviewed journals making even more astonishing claims. A study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine, as seen in the the US National Library of Medicine, for example, demonstrated that a women with special abilities was and is able to accelerate the germination of specific seeds for the purposes of developing a more robust seed stock. As the study states:

Chulin Sun is a woman with exceptional powers (Shen and Sun, 1996, 1998; Sun, 1998). A member of the Chinese Somatic Science Research Institute, she is a practitioner of Waiqi. Waiqi is a type of qigong that teaches the practitioner to bring the qi energy of traditional Chinese medicine under the control of the mind. Chulin Sun can induce plant seeds to grow shoots and roots several cm long within 20 min using mentally projected qi energy (Fig. 1). This has been demonstrated on more than 180 different occasions at universities as well as science and research institutions in China (including Taiwan and Hong Kong) as well as other countries (e.g., Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, etc.) (Ge et al., 1998; Qin et al., 1998; Lee et al., 1999). We took part in and repeated the qi germination experiments seven times, and five of them succeeded (Ge et al., 1998). This remarkable effect on seed development has drawn widespread attention (Tompkins and Bird, 1973; Lee, 1998), but the biological mechanisms that underlie this phenomenon are unknown.(source)

You can read more about that here.

The examples are endless, making clear that the mind-body connection definitely warrants more attention when it comes to mainstream medicine and therapeutic interventions.


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