We are all familiar with the Placebo Effect, the idea that something will make you feel better if you believe Red Appleit will. Indeed one of the accusations of sceptics about complementary therapies is that they are ‘merely’ acting as a placebo. But the placebo effect is well-documented, although not fully understood, and is effective in around 30% of cases. This is better than many prescription medications. Maybe ‘an apple a day could keep the doctor away’ !

I heard a programme yesterday on BBC Radio 4 in which it was said that perhaps ‘The Placebo Effect’ should be renamed ‘The Healing Effect’ as it was clear that everyone had the possibility to improve their own health.

But the main topic of the programme was ‘The Nocebo Effect’ which is the opposite of the Placebo Effect and even less well understood. The essence of it is that if you don’t believe that your treatment will work, it may not!

I was with my father the night before he had a major heart operation and a young doctor came to run through the side effects and risks of his surgery and subsequent treatment. This is done with the purpose of ensuring informed consent and is considered to be an improvement on telling patients nothing  and expecting them to go along with what is offered. And this is of course the right thing to do. For my father, the risks of the treatment were worth taking because his quality of life was so poor. Other patients might undergo the surgery in a state of fear which is not a positive state in which to undergo anything.

Incidentally my father came through the surgery, but never dug his garden or pottered in his greenhouse again. His health never improved and he was re-admitted to hospital where he was found to have cancer. He asked how long he had, was told they didn’t know, and died 3 days later.

It is starting to be understood that a doctor telling you all the side effects or being less than hopeful about a treatment or patients doing research on the internet could well affect the outcome of the treatment.

If you think you could benefit from a more positive spin on your health issues contact me for a chat

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