Is Your Mind Making You Ill?

I read a really interesting piece today on what ‘s called the Nocebo effect, whereby people suffered real side effects when given placebo drugs. In other words, they had a real reaction to something which could not cause this reaction. The nocebo effect occurs when people experience unpleasant side effects, from medicine or a medical intervention, after being told to expect them. It’s a bit like the opposite of the placebo effect, where the patient has positive results from taking something inert and differs from hypochondria, or health anxiety, whereby the sufferer imagines his or herself to be ill.

This has been known about since the 1970’s, when a man told he had a few months to live due to a liver tumour died as expected. Less predictable was the fact that the post mortem revealed that his tumour was actually much smaller than had been diagnosed and the cancer was not in fact serious enough to have been fatal. It was as though he’d died because he expected to.

A study more recently conducted has now shown, that you are more likely to suffer the possible side effects of medication for example if you know in advance what they are.  Reactions from headaches to nausea, dizziness to skin rashes were seen in the study. Pretty much anything you might find listed in a packet of pills.

What this shows is that the mind is able to create real and unpleasant physical symptoms from mere suggestion and pessimistic expectation. The article went on to suggest that many modern day ailments may be caused in part by this phenomenon. Things like headaches usually attributed to electronic equipment and PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) it suggested, may be due in part at least to your negative expectation. In other words, you create a self fulfilling prophecy. You expect to feel ill and so you do!

Personally, I never read the contra-indications or possible side effects on medicine before I take it! and interestingly, I’ve only ever reacted badly to one – an allergy to an antibiotic.

I had a client however, who seemed to get every possible side effect, regardless of what the medication was for, and yes, they did read the list before they started and fully expected to suffer the consequences! Perhaps I am just made of resilient stuff, or maybe I am just not giving my mind the unhelpful suggestions to feed on and manifest from….

I’d love to hear what you think of this…..



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