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The Nocebo Effect: How Your Thoughts Can Harm You

You may have heard about the placebo effect before.

That's what occurs when a person thinks they’re getting a medicine for treating their illness, but what they’re really getting is just a sugar pill.

But then they start to recover from their illness as though they'd been taking the real medicine.

An opposite and a lesser-known tendency is the nocebo effect. It is the phenomenon in which inert or harmless substances brings about negative effects in a person.

The case of Mr. A

After an argument with his ex-girlfriend, a 26-year-old man attempted suicide by impulsively swallowing 29 capsules of an experimental drug he obtained from a clinical trial that was testing a new antidepressant.

He immediately felt that he had made a mistake and asked his neighbour to take him to the hospital.

When he arrived at the hospital, he was shaking, sweating and had breathing rapidly. His blood pressure was extremely low at and his pulse was high.

As he reached the emergency room “he said help me, I took all my pills” and then he collapsed to the floor dropping an empty prescription bottle.

Over the next four hours, the doctors managed to raise his blood pressure after injecting him with 6 litres of saline solution but his pulse remained high at 106.

Then, a doctor who oversaw the clinical trial for the antidepressant arrived.

He said that the young man was part of the placebo group—the patients who are selected at random, and without their knowledge, to receive a pill that did nothing at all. His symptoms weren’t coming from the pills.

The young man was surprised and relieved upon hearing the news and within 15 minutes, he was fully alert and his blood pressure and his heart rate returned to normal.

Final thoughts

The placebo and nocebo effect demonstrate what a powerful impact our thoughts and beliefs can have in influencing our health.

Our every thought produces a biochemical reaction in the brain. The brain then releases chemical signals that are transmitted to the body.

There is truth in the phrase “you can worry yourself sick.”

Therefore, to maintain good health, apart from having a good diet and exercise, guarding yourself against negative and worrisome thoughts is just as vital.


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