Posted on Sep 23, 2022 16
The placebo effect. Does the word combination sound familiar? We wrote about it in the last article. Today you will learn about a lesser-known antipode of the placebo. The dark side of brain suggestibility is the nocebo effect.
Let’s tell you why nocebo makes people suffer, but first things first.
The Nocebo Reaction, written by Walter Kennedy, was published in 1961. It was this doctor who first described the negative effects of placebos and called them the nocebo phenomenon.
So, what is it? A nocebo is a remedy that has no real pharmacological effect, but causes a negative reaction in the patient, ranging from dizziness and headaches to death.
For pain that disappears for no apparent reason, doctors immediately think of the placebo effect. Sometimes a person feels better simply because he sincerely believes in the treatment's efficacy. Although in reality there is no cure. Seeing this phenomenon in a scientific experiment is quite difficult.
Another thing is the inverse effect called nocebo-if a person is convinced that he should feel pain, he becomes in pain.
A simple example
Scientists conducted an experiment to see if the nocebo effect could actually cause pain. The subjects were divided into two groups and all were injected with saline (harmless to the body). The first group was told that an itch-inducing allergen was being injected, while the second group knew the truth.
Those who were told about the allergen experienced itching. This phenomenon is called the nocebo effect.
There are usually 3 qualities that cause the nocebo effect these are:
Let’s summarize: what is the difference between the nocebo and placebo effects? Both effects are based on faith, only with placebo it is faith in the drug, that it will help, and the nocebo effect is based on faith in the disease, which should appear because of the drug.
In simple words, the placebo effect is a phenomenon in which the patient’s condition improves; with the nocebo effect, it worsens.
Size and price also have a definite effect. A large and expensive pill activates a stronger nocebo effect than a small and cheap counterpart.
Nocebo can drive an impressionable person to a grave condition or even to death. African sorcerers’ curses were based precisely on this effect. Tribal members were convinced that the shaman possessed magic, and those subjected to the curse soon died.
Little has changed now, except that not all people believe in magic. A gullible and suggestible patient can die if doctors mistakenly diagnose him as deadly.
Under the nocebo effect, the nervous system signals other human systems. The hormonal system is worth highlighting: immunity weakens, production of the hormone dopamine decreases, and pain increases.
Scientists at the University of Michigan John-Kar Zubieta, using positron emission tomography, have explained why nocebo increases pain.
Nocebo’s effect is related to a decrease in the hormone's production of dopamine, which is involved in the production of opioid peptides that have an analgesic effect.
Italian scientists led by Fabrizio Benedetti did not stand by and made their discovery.
They claim that the nocebo effect is triggered through anxiety, which is caused by the expectation of pain.
For example, if a reputable physician informs a patient about the negative effects of a drug, the person may have anxious thoughts that lead to health problems.
It turns out that the nocebo effect can affect a person if they learn about other people’s negative experiences. The study was published in The Clinical Journal of Pain in September 2019.
In the same way, people’s stories on the Internet about the negative effects of something affect a person.
To determine the groups most affected by nocebo, scientists from Switzerland conducted a meta-analysis. Publications from January 1997 to March 2018 were studied. In the end, the conclusion was quite expected.
Individuals with pessimistic attitudes and anxiety disorders were most susceptible to nocebo while an optimistic outlook enhanced the effects of placebo.
The nocebo effect can manifest itself even with strong pain medications. Professor Luana Colloca of the University of Maryland proved this experimentally.
The protagonists of the experiment were two groups of patients who had recently undergone surgery and were taking morphine (a painkiller).
What other conclusion can be drawn? A person’s negative expectations can reflect badly on treatment, so doctors should pay attention not only to physical symptoms but also to patients’ preconceptions.
This topic is not as well researched, but many experts highlight several good ways to counteract the negative effects.
Hypnosis engages areas of the brain associated with attention, emotion, and pain. Therefore, hypnosis can be used successfully to counteract the nocebo effect.
Some experts claim that hypnosis is an effective way to get rid of a negative psycho-emotional state. Hypnosis sessions affect the psyche and various biochemical processes occurring in the body.
But not everyone is affected by hypnosis in the same way, some are not amenable to it at all.
In order not to drown in negative emotions and to be healthy, it is necessary to change the worldview and the way of life. For starters, take up sports. Just exercising or jogging is enough to increase the hormones that make us happy.
Have you ever noticed that people who do what they love until old age are less likely to get sick and live longer than those who are dissatisfied with their lives?
There’s no need to get yourself all worked up and expect to get sick. It’s better to distract yourself. As already written above, it can be a sporting activity, also great help hobbies and interesting work. Make it so that for negative thoughts you simply have no time left.
And also stop diagnosing yourself, especially according to the articles of various bloggers.