My wife is participating in a study of a new medical treatment. She is getting regular blood tests and various other medical tests to see if the treatment is effective. At the start of the study, the doctor told her that only half of the participants would get the actual treatment. The other half will receive a placebo, which is a pill with nothing but an inert filler. Placebo treatment is an accepted scientific way to measure a new medicine’s effectiveness.
One complicating factor of placebo treatment is that the human body is designed to cure itself, even with a placebo or nothing at all. In addition, a person’s mental outlook can affect the results of a drug or procedure. For example, reader’s Digest recently published an article by Lia Grainger titled “The Placebo Cure.” That article tells about a man diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He became part of a study to see if a drug used to treat type 2 diabetes could also help treat Parkinson’s.
When the study began, the patient immediately started feeling better. His joints ached less, he could move more easily, and he was able to start taking walks around the neighborhood. He said his memory was more robust, and he was convinced he was daily receiving the new drug. It turned out that he had been given a placebo.
The article defines the “placebo effect” as when the brain convinces the body that the fake treatment is authentic. Doctors have been using placebos for a very long time. One study showed that 89% of physicians used placebo treatment at least once a month. The scientific community only poorly understands this effect, but it is genuine and not questioned by medical researchers.
The design of the human body is one of God’s finest creations. Our minds have incredible power over the physical needs of our bodies, and it seems to be unique to humans and not a product of evolution or a chance process. This is true of our sexual relationships as well as our physical wellness. Our drug-saturated culture tends to throw a chemical at every problem. God has built into us an incredible number of ways in which our bodies fight disease and physical impairments.
We need to quickly emphasize that we are not saying there is no need for antibiotics, vaccines, or medical treatments. But, at the same time, we need to understand that we “are fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalms 139:14). One part of that is how our brains help our bodies maintain a high level of physical well-being.
— John N. Clayton © 2022
Reference: “The Placebo Cure” by Lia Grainger in Reader’s Digest September 2022, pages 79 – 84.