What is the nocebo effect?

Posted on Feb 1, 2021      199

Thoughts can really take on a material character, changing not only a person’s well-being, but even the biochemistry of the brain. Nowadays this has been proven by over one study. Many people are familiar with the concept of placebo, but what is the nocebo effect?

Nocebo is the antithesis of placebo. While a placebo is a substance with no therapeutic properties, but only treats the patient through the power of his belief in the therapeutic effect, a nocebo is a demonstration of the negative effect of the power of self-interference. Such a notion refers to a remedy that also has no real pharmacological effect, but causes a negative reaction in a person.

Scientists link this phenomenon completely with psychophysiology, experiments confirm which. For example, one of them studied the relationship between cell phones and headaches in patients. It gave some subjects phone dummies during the experiment without their knowledge, but they still continued to complain of pain. The researchers explained this phenomenon: patients expecting pain in their thoughts after using the phone increased the level of anxiety, and this led to the activation of the hormone cholecystokinin, which caused physical pain.

In today’s world, the availability and speed of information and rumors can play a very cruel trick on easily insensitive people, the usual news broadcasts or a simple exchange of gossip with friends can promote because the nocebo effect. For example, a neurophysiologist Fabrizio Benedetti of the University of Turin conducted the following experiment: he suggested that a group of more than a hundred students go hiking in the mountains at altitudes up to 3,000 meters and before hiking told one student that the mountain air at such a height causes migraine. Even before the hike began, more than a quarter of the participants to whom that student had relayed the rumor complained of severe headaches. Their tests showed it was as if they were actually breathing air with reduced oxygen content, meaning their brain biochemistry had changed because of the expectation of pain.

Scientists say the nocebo effect doesn’t end with pain, as it can also cause death. For example, in 2007, the medical community was heatedly discussing a case that happened to a patient undergoing treatment for depression. He ended his life, swallowed dozens of pills prescribed to him. His blood pressure dropped so sharply that if the doctors did not arrive in time, he would have died. Tests showed no foreign or potent substances in the man’s system. In fact, he was a participant in an experiment with the use of a placebo, and instead of these pills he received “pacifiers”, but he himself, of course, did not know this.

As neurophysiologists say, the expectation of pain, fear of indisposition, fear of death can really kill a person, because they influence the hypothalamus, pituitary gland and provoke a powerful hormonal release. Doctors therefore warn impressionable people not to “get” themselves even more wound up, because it can lead to very unfortunate health consequences.