Is there scientific proof we can heal ourselves? By Lissa Rankin at TEDxAmericanRiviera
Lissa Rankin, MD
Can the mind really heal the body? And if so, is there any scientific evidence to convince skeptical physicians like me?
These are the questions that fueled the last few years of my research and what I discovered is that the scientific community, the medical establishment, has been proving for over 50 years, that the mind can heal the body. We call it the placebo effect. And we’ve been trying to outsmart it for decades.
The placebo effect is a thorn in the side of the medical establishment. It’s an inconvenient truth, that gets in between, trying to bring new treatments, new surgeries into the medical establishment. So it’s a problem. Supposedly.
But I actually think, this is really good news. The placebo effect is excellent news. Because it’s concrete evidence that the body holds within it innate self-repair mechanisms that can make unthinkable things happen to the body.
So, if you find this surprising, if you have a hard time believing that the body can heal itself, you need look no further than The Spontaneous Remission Project, a database compiled by the Institute of Noetic Sciences of over 3500 case studies in the medical literature of patients who have gotten better from seemingly incurable illnesses.
You think there’s such a thing as an incurable illness? I swear, if you go look at this database, it will blow your mind. Everything is in there. Stage 4 cancers that disappeared without treatment. HIV positive patients, that became HIV negative. Heart disease, kidney failure, diabetes, high blood pressure, thyroid disease, autoimmune diseases, gone.
A great example of this in the medical literature, is a case study from 1957 of Mr. Wright who had advanced lymphosarcoma. So, things weren’t going well for Mr. Wright, time was really running out. He had tumors the size of oranges in his armpits, his neck, his chest, his abdomen. His liver and spleen were enlarged, and his lungs were filling up with two quarts of milky fluid every day that had to be drained in order for him to breathe.
But Mr. Wright wasn’t giving up hope. He had heard about this wonder drug called Krebiozen, and he was begging his doctor, “Come on, just give me some of that Krebiozen, it’s all going to be good.”
Now, unfortunately the Krebiozen was only available on a research protocol and the protocol required that the doctor be able to make an assessment that says that this guy has at least three months to live. And his doctor, Dr. West just couldn’t do that.
But Mr. Wright was tenacious and he didn’t give up. He kept badgering his doctor, until finally his doctor was like, “Okay, fine I’ll give you the Krebiozen.”
So he dosed him up on a Friday, not expecting that Mr. Wright would make it through the weekend. But to his utter shock, when Dr. West came in to do rounds on Monday, Mr. Wright was up, walking around the wards, and his tumors had shrunk to half of their original size. They had melted like snowballs on a hot stove. And 10 days after getting the Krebiozen, they were gone.
So Mr. Wright was up rocking and rolling like crazy and Krebiozen is the miracle drug he believed it to be, for two months, until the initial reports came out about Krebiozen that said that it didn’t really look like Krebiozen was working so well.
Mr. Wright fell into a deep depression and his cancer came back. So this time Dr. West decided to get sneaky, and he told his patient that “You know that Krebiozen that you got, that was a tainted version, really not so good.
But I got us some ultrapure highly concentrated Krebiozen, this stuff’s got it going on.
He then injected Mr. Wright with nothing but distilled water. And once again, the tumors disappeared, the fluid in his lungs went away. Mr. Wright was up rocking and rolling for another two months.
And then the American Medical Association blew it, by publishing on a nationwide study that proved definitively that Krebiozen was worthless.
Two days later, Mr. Wright after hearing this news died.
Soon after that, I came across another study in the medical literature that was the stuff of fairy tales. Three baby girls were born, delivered by a midwife, on Friday the 13th in the Okefenokee Swamp, near the Georgia-Florida border. And the midwife pronounced that these three babies, born on such a faithful day, were all hexed.
The first, she said, would die before her 16th birthday. The second, before her 21st. The third, before her 23rd birthday.
And as it turned out, the first girl died the day before her 16th birthday, the second died the day before her 21st birthday, and the third girl, who knew what had happened to the other two, got wind of that, and the day before her 23rd birthday, she showed up at the hospital hyperventilating, begging them, to make sure she survived. She wound up dying that night.
These two case studies are great examples from the medical literature of the placebo effect, and its opposite, the nocebo effect.
So Mr. Wright, when he got that distilled water and his tumors melted away, that’s a great example of the placebo effect. When you get a seemingly inert treatment and yet something is happening physiologically in the body, such that the disease goes away.
The nocebo effect is the opposite. So the three hexed girls are an example of the nocebo effect. When the minds believed that something bad is going to happen in the body then it comes to manifest.
So the scientific literature that medical journals like the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association, these scientific journals are full of evidence that the placebo effect, and the nocebo effect are incredibly powerful. We’ve known this since the 1950s, and we’ve seen countless case studies that showed that in almost everything you study, if you give people a fake treatment, a sugar pill, a saline injection, or most effectively, a fake surgery – yeah, really – 18% to 80% of the time, people get better.
And it’s not just in the mind, that’s what I thought in the beginning, like “Oh! They’re just feeling better, they’re thinking better.” But it is not. It’s actually in their physiology. This is measurable. You can actually see what happens to the body.
So for example patients getting placebos were found to have ulcers that healed, colons that became less inflamed, bronchia that dilated, warts that disappeared, cells looked different under the microscope. It’s provable, it’s happening in the body, even though it’s initiated by the mind.
So, when you look at these, some of the studies are just amazing. I love the Rogaine studies. You get a bunch of bald men, you give them placebos. They grow hair!
The opposite is also true. So if you give people a placebo and you tell them it’s chemotherapy, they vomit, and they lose their hair. So this is really happening in the body.
And the question I have is – Is it just the mind’s positive belief that’s making this happen? Not according to Harvard researcher Ted Kaptchuk. According to him, he thinks that the most essential part is actually the nurturing care of a health care provider, more so even than the mind’s positive belief that some of the studies actually say that the doctor is the placebo or can be.
So Ted Kaptchuk wanted to study this, and he did a great study looking at patients that were getting placebos for an illness, for treatment of an illness and he told them, “You’re getting a placebo, there’s nothing in here, inert ingredients, nothing active.” They still got better.
Most likely, Kaptchuk postulated, because they felt tended, nurtured, they felt like they were doing something, they felt like somebody cared.
So to say that you can heal yourself is sort of a misnomer. You know, the body can heal itself. The body has this innate natural self-repair mechanisms, but the scientific data proves that you need the tending nurturing care of a healthcare provider, of some sort of a healer, to facilitate that process. It’s not an easy process to go through alone, so it makes a big difference if somebody else is holding that positive belief with you.
But the problem is while the doctor can be the placebo, the doctor can also be the nocebo. So, what patients need from us, as healthcare providers, they need us to be forces of healing, not forces of fear or pessimism.
So every time your doctor tells you, “You have an incurable illness, you’re going to have to take that medication for the rest of your life,” Or God forbid, you get cancer and they say, “You’ve got a 5%, five year survival rate”. It’s really no different than when that midwife told those three baby girls that they were hexed. It’s a form of medical hexing that’s so prevalent. As doctors, we think we’re being realistic, you know? We’re giving people the kind of information we think they need to know, but we actually can be harming them.
Instead we need to be more like Dr. West. You know? Picking that distilled water, “Really Mr. Wright, I promise, this is going to do it for you.”
But do we have to count on our doctors to dupe us? Do we have to get fake surgeries and fake drugs, and wind up in clinical trials? This is what led the next phase of my research.
So in my last TEDx talk, l talked about a new wellness model that I developed, called the Whole Health Cairn, and this came about as part of my research, trying to find how else can we harness this mind’s power that’s clearly evidenced by the placebo effect and the nocebo effect, can we do something without being in a clinical trial? And my hypothesis was that in order to heal ourselves, in order to be optimally healthy, we need more than just a good diet, regular exercise program, getting enough sleep, taking your vitamins, following your doctors orders. Those things all are great, and critical and important.