Since we’re talking about endorphins anyway, let’s go ahead and plow into the Placebo Effect.
The placebo effect is what happens when we have an expectation of something and so then it happens. It’s mostly dependent on Belief.
Let’s just get some facts out of the way: some people believe that holistic, Eastern and complimentary methods are all placebos in healing; in clinical studies it’s been shown that placebos work. Doctors have been aware of their power since forever and have relied on them when they had nothing else to give. We don’t really know how and why they work yet, but we know they do for some people and we suspect it’s because of the rituals they create around healing.
One theory is that when we have an expectation of something happening, we create the circumstances for it to come true. If we take a medication believing that the doctor gave it to us and he believes it will help us, we get on board and believe it also and then our bodies comply by having the appropriate and desired effect – getting well.
There have been many studies done on this subject because it continues to confound and yes, it sometimes embarrasses people who feel “duped.” My favorite study was done in 2002 at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute. They took three groups of patients – Group 1 and 2 received new and experimental antidepressants and Group 3 got a placebo. Fast forward several weeks and in the brain scans they found that Group 3 had a greater increase in brain activity than either Group 1 or 2. Not just that, but the activity was in the prefrontal cortex instead of the areas where the drugs hit.
What does that mean? It means perhaps our brains aren’t getting “fooled” by the placebo at all. It’s just responding to it in a different way than the drug – a better, more holistic and healing way. It’s like we’re using intention – I’m going to choose to take this sugar pill, at this time each day, and I’d like my body to use that moment as the starting pistol to get busy healing.
We also know the placebo effect works on pain. In one 2004 study at the University of Michigan, patients were given a painful injection in the jaw while their brains were scanned. They were asked to give the researchers their pain level and were given more or less saline solution in the injection to keep the number at a consistent rate during the scan. Then, they were given a placebo pain-reliever and all of them experienced a decrease in their pain level, while their brains also showed changes, specifically in their opioid receptors, which as we know is where endorphins are received. We can conclude that the expectation of pain relief stimulated the brain’s own pain relief system.
Yes, the placebo effect is in your head. No, it’s not just psychological.
So, why are some people great at activating their own endorphins? We don’t know for sure, but it’s been shown there is a link between having a two copies of a gene called tryptophan hydroxylase-2, which is responsible for making serotonin. Those that don’t have two copies have a harder time making serotonin. Which puts us back to making sure our bodies are making adequate endorphins through foods, exercise and meditation.
Lemme tell you, rather than feeling like I’ve been “fooled” I’ve made it my mission to cultivate and strengthen my own Placebo Effect machine. Our brains are awesome! Look what they can do! Embrace it. Own it. Make it your own and use it to your advantage to cut down on outside pain relief or antidepressants or what have you that cause other issues in your system. Use the system that’s already in there! It takes belief and an adequate amount of endorphins.
Almost every day I get asked if any of this “alternative stuff” really works. “How do you know what you’re feeling isn’t just all in your mind?”
I’m going by how I feel, and how I feel is great and continuing to improve. My energy is increased, my outlook is positive and my body and brain feel better than they ever have. My body has released over 80 pounds of weight it no longer felt it needed and it continues to respond in a very happy way to the changes I’m making.
Just for arguments sake, let’s say everything I was experiencing was “only in my mind.” My body’s auto-immune functions healing, my releasing excess weight, my clearer and better-functioning mind, my lighter encounters with common illnesses like colds and recovering from them quicker…it’s all been “just in my mind.”
A. Awesome. B. Who cares?
You’re talking to someone who grew up with, and for 30+ years was challenged by, living a life with multiple personalities in one way or another. I know intimately the power of the brain.
Here’s something that you might consider – EVERYTHING happening in your body might be in your mind. We create our perception of our own realities each and every day.
Research shows that happy people live longer. Being happy brings you greater success at work and in life. Feeling and being happy is partly a choice made not only in your brain but also in your gut because of that pesky 90% of serotonin in there. (If your gut can’t talk to your brain and vice-versa, you will be struggling with depression and a host of other issues.)
So, no, I’m not offended when someone asks me if maybe what I’m experiencing is all in my head. It’s absolutely in my head and in my gut, too, where my second brain resides. And again, I think it’s awesome.
Your perception about your life is key. It’s everything. Change your lens, change your life.
Heal Something Good
Stimulate your own awesome healing placebo effect. 1. Set a goal (reduce pain by 50% in your knees), 2. Create an activity that makes sense (strength exercises in your legs and gluteus maximus (that’s your bum, darlin’) followed by a massage with essential oils), 3. Write down the success you will have (the pain in my knees will decrease and I’ll be able to take longer walks and go up stairs), 4. Remind yourself how great it’s working every time you do the “treatment.” (“This is working so well! Way to go, Body! Way to heal!”)