There'll be a functional cure for AIDs; your brain waves will be able to be manipulated to jog memory or scratch bad recollections; and, bandages will indicate how healing is progressing. These are just three of the many amazing medical breakthroughs that could become reality within the next 10-20 years, according to arecent Brisbane Times reporton groundbreaking Melbourne-based research.
While these innovations focus very much on a biomedical approach to treating disease, there are another group of international researchers who are finding equally amazing results through the use of placebos which show how our beliefs affect our bodies. These treatments are often dispensed as inert sugar pills or 'pretend operations' whereby a patient's trust in their efficacy and/or the authority of the dispensing doctor, results in improvement or healing.
Did you know that the placebo effect can produce higher test scores? Or that simply picking up a bottle of pills (and putting them straight back down again) can effect healing?
Have you ever considered that it could be the mother's oft repeated "let mummy kiss it better" that triggers the same pain-reducing placebo effect for her child?
Such effects are not insignificant and now have far-reaching implications for the treatment of many conditions. Surprisingly, "The best known mechanisms underlying the placebo effect have been illustrated for pain and Parkinson's disease",write leading placebo researchers, Pollo, Carlino and Benedetti. These and researchers doing similar work tell us that they're experiencing consistent results in Parkinson's patients with placebo-induced motor improvement, giving credibility to using placebo studies to identify how thought can have an effect on health similar to that of drugs.
World Parkinson's Day, aimed at public awareness of the disease and advances in its treatment, is being observed this week on the 11 April. A cure, dearly desired by so many, may lie in the mind and outside the realm of the biophysical.
Delving further into the importance of placebo research, 97% of GPs participating in a recent trial in the UK were found to have prescribed placebos, at some time.
It's now well-known that placebos are effective for lowering heart rate and the respiratory centres - acting just like a drug and a little bit like that warm hug from mum. Noteworthy indeed, as we observe the other major health event this week, World Health Day, focussing this year on high blood pressure which affects one in three adults worldwide.
Placebo research on the effects of our thoughts on our bodies is leading many medical investigators to ask another question. If our thoughts can affect our health, what sorts of thoughts can not only affect a cure, but promote consistent good health?
Who hasn't found that kindness and charity make us happy; that a gentle response disarms conflicts such as road rage; that when we forgive we benefit by peace of mind and body? Conversely, I'm fairly certain that I'm not alone in having felt the stress from telling a lie.
"If you heard that research had demonstrated a factor which could lower your blood pressure, help you recover from surgery, provide a greater sense of well-being, add years to your life and help protect your children from drug abuse, alcohol abuse or suicide, would you be interested in discovering what it might be?" (Larson & Larson, 1994).
Donald Moss, author of The Circle of the Soul: The Role of Spirituality in Health Care writes that today there is an empirical science of the soul, and a growing body of methodologically-guided research on the positive health benefits of spiritual behaviours that include compassion, forgiveness, prayer, gratitude and love.
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