The Perfect Cure: Mental or Psychological?

Many people especially the elderly, frequent the hospitals to have their old-age-associated diseases treated with utmost care by their trusted physicians. But what if you’re of normal age and can’t find any problems on your medical records and you keep on complaining to your doctor about feeling an unexplainable physical pain? Chances are, it’s all in your head and that you have conditioned your mind to think that the pain that you are suffering from might actually be linked to something more serious causing your entire body to succumb to it. Or perhaps the opposite wherein you feel better after taking something that you think was a cure but turned out to be of no medicinal value.

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One such case is known as the Placebo effect. It is a condition wherein a person suffering from any symptoms or forms of physical discomfort is relieved after taking a medicine or a drug that’s not even scientifically proven to be effective. It is usually attributed to classical conditioning of the human brain in which the expectation of a person to be healed by the medicine heavily influences his or her recovery.

For example, when you have an open wound and when your mother comes to you with a container of a solution (sugar and water), and insists that it must be put on your wound to disinfect it from germs and bacteria. Administering it eventually made you feel better even if there’s no scientific explanation because you believe that what she said is true, such an experience is already considered as a placebo effect. Some elderly follow this tradition and claimed that it’s useful in treating wounds until now. On the contrary, doctors say that it’s salt, not sugar, which must be mixed with water and applied on wounds due to its antiseptic property.

You may be wondering how it happens. According to some researchers, a possible explanation is that the application of a placebo increases the endorphin production in the brain, a chemical that others call as the “happy hormone” because it generates positive feelings. It also has the properties of morphine which is a pain-killing substance.

To prove if this is true, researchers used Positron Emission Tomography (PET) brain scans on a number of participants that were required to hold an adequately hot and painful piece of metal and then have a placebo injection known to alleviate the pain. After the participants said they no longer feel the pain after taking a shot of the medicine, they were put under the brain scans and the researchers discovered that the anterior cingulate cortex of the brain where opiates/pain-killing receptors are found, were triggered.

It’s amazing how a placebo can sometimes mimic the effects of a real medicine with a simple motivation and expectation of your mind which makes it a more effective cure against illnesses.

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