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Why Placebos Work

Scientists don't understand why taking a sugar pill instead of the "real thing" will sometimes cure a disease, but they're beginning to figure it out. New evidence indicates that our immune system may have an on-off switch which is controlled by our MINDS. This could be one reason why your personality traits might make you more likely to get pain relief from a placebo: if you’re more of an angry, hostile type, they won't do much for you.

Dental expert Christian S. Stohler says, "This work fits into the bigger picture regarding the degree to which our individual response to a stress factor is imprinted in our personality. The release of stress-relieving neurotransmitters, such as opiates in our brain, triggered by the application of the stress explain much of the individual variance in the response to treatment."

There's a similar placebo effect that occurs in many animals.

In New Scientist, Colin Barras quotes biologist Peter Trimmer as saying that "the immune system is costly to run--so costly that a strong and sustained response could dangerously drain an animal's energy reserves. In other words, as long as the infection is not lethal, it pays to wait for a sign that fighting it will not endanger the animal in other ways."

Barras writes that psychologist Nicolas Humphrey first proposed this theory when he noticed that the Siberian hamster subconsciously acts on a cue that it is summer because food supplies to sustain an immune response are plentiful at that time of year." He concluded that "we subconsciously respond to treatment--even a sham one--because it comes with assurances that it will weaken the infection, allowing our immune response to succeed rapidly without straining the body's resources."

Computer modeling of this theory shows a clear evolutionary benefit to switching the immune system on and off depending on environmental conditions. Barras quotes Humphrey as saying, "I'm pleased to see that my theory stands up to computational modeling."

According to Humphrey, this "means that we have misunderstood the nature of placebos. Farming and other innovations in the past 10,000 years mean that many people have a stable food supply and can safely mount a full immune response at any time--but our subconscious switch has not yet adapted to this. A placebo tricks the mind into thinking it is an ideal time to switch on an immune response."

Alas, our subconscious minds have not caught up to our bodily reality, and many of us are hungry when we don't need to be, and some of us don't "switch off" our appetites when there's enough food around. Is there a solution to this problem? Anne Strieber thinks so, and she's reduced her diet book download to $3 from $5, so YOU can find out too!



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