The Placebo Response: How You Can Release the Body's Inner Pharmacy for Better Health

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9780060194932: The Placebo Response: How You Can Release the Body's Inner Pharmacy for Better Health

From a distinguished physician and medical ethicist, here is the definitive scientific investigation of the mysterious mind-body healing process. Did you know that:

  • You'll heal faster after surgery if you see trees and grass outside your window than if you're looking at a brick wall.
  • After asthmatic children were given vanilla aroma to use with their inhalers, their asthma eventually improved in response to the vanilla alone, even when the inhalers contained no active drug.
  • Some patients who had sham angina surgery performed in a double-blind experiment showed improvements lasting six months or more, which their physicians could not distinguish from the results in patients who had had the real surgery.
  • When people watched a movie showing Mother Teresa taking care of the poor in Calcutta, their bodies secreted extra amounts of salivary immunoglobulin A, a major germ-fighting chemical.
  • When Japanese teenagers, who were allergic to a tree similar to poison ivy, were touched with leaves from a harmless chestnut tree, they developed severe rashes. When touched with the poisonous leaves but told they were chestnut, they had no reaction whatsoever.
  • When a new medical treatment is introduced with much excitement and hope, the first patients to receive it typically show a seventy percent positive response rate, even in cases where the treatment--on more careful study-is shown to be medically worthless.

The Placebo Response, grounded in comprehensive research, presents a convincing case that we can harness our inner pharmacy for better health and healing.

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Review:

Could a tiny sugar pill actually hold the secret to a miracle cure? In his well-researched new book, Dr. Howard Brody, a family practice physician and university professor, brings forward an intriguing, and provocative, premise about the healing effect of placebos, the much-maligned fake cure of popular lore. Brody asserts that while placebos themselves have no medical value, time and again real illnesses and pain have been diminished by their use.

According to Brody, the placebo phenomenon--which he pronounces mysterious and unknowable at its very heart--is when the convergence of healing signals, assigned meaning, and human expectations stimulates the body's inner healing power. The patient's positive mental and emotional reaction to a medical intervention releases what Brody terms the "inner pharmacy." In other words, even though the treatment is benign, the body's biochemical pathways are stimulated to induce healing in the same manner actual medicines do. "Could harboring hope, faith, or expectation be genuinely potent factors in the healing process?" Brody asks, "I believe they are. In fact, I see them as the heart and soul of the placebo response."

In this lucid, easy-to-follow book, Brody lays the foundation for his argument by reviewing the history of placebo use as well as the results of several major studies. He takes ample time up front to explore a variety of theories about why placebos work, who responds to them, and the role of the medical provider in the process. The later half of the book is devoted to guiding individuals who wish to release their own internal healing power. One of Brody's primary contentions is that patients are not inert objects in this process: they must take control of their own health before the healing response can be unleashed.

Is the public's rising confidence in the effectiveness of alternative medicine partially a result of the placebo effect? According to Brody, the more personal, caring treatment offered by alternative providers could be more effective in releasing the placebo response in patients who do not respond well to conventional medical approaches. His premise: the tenor of the healing message as well as the carrier of that message are key to stimulating--or shutting down--the inner pharmacy. A provider who does not believe in the patient's ability to heal can inadvertently cause the opposite reaction--the "nocebo effect." If a patient expects to get worse, they often do just that.

While Brody's holistic approach, as well as his advocacy of a strong patient-provider partnership, are not new ideas, this wise, compassionate book thoroughly explores yet another angle of the mind's fascinating ability to induce true healing. --Marianne Painter

About the Author:

Howard Brody, M.D., Ph.D., is a professor of family practice and philosophy and director of the Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences at Michigan State University. He is the author of Placebos and the Philosophy of Medicine, The Healer's Power, Stories of Sickness, and Ethical Decisions in Medicine. Dr. Brody resides in Holt, Michigan, with his wife, Daralyn, and their children, Sheila and Mark.



Daralyn Brody graduated from Michigan State University, worked various jobs to help support her medical student husband, and became a homemaker after the birth of her children. She has studied several forms of alternative healing.

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