The Power of Beliefs

Placebo effect medical health concept as a transparent pill with text inside

This past week I reread a few books that I found to be very powerful in years past and wanted to refresh my memory on some of the key points in each. A favorite of mine is The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles by Bruce Lipton, Ph D. 

This is a book filled with powerful information and images based on solid research that provides amazing insights into the power of the mind. Here are two stories that blew me away when I first read them and once again they put me in a place of awe when considering just how amazing our minds are. 

On page 105 the author succinctly says “Beliefs control biology,” He then provides examples of the placebo effect to validate his statement. In describing the placebo effect, he states: “Every medical student learns, at least in passing, that the mind can affect the body. They learn that some people get better when they believe (falsely) they are getting medicine.” 

Senior grey-haired woman looking confident at the camera smiling with crossed arms and hand raised on chin. thinking positive.

A Baylor School of Medicine study, published in 2002 in the New England Journal of Medicine evaluated surgery for patients with severe, debilitating knee pain. The lead author of the study, Dr. Bruce Mosley, ‘knew’ that knee surgery helped his patients: ‘All good surgeons know there is no placebo effect in surgery.’ But Mosley was trying to figure out which part of the surgery was giving his patients relief. The patients in the study were divided into three groups. Mosley shaved the damaged cartilage in the knee of one group. For another group, he flushed out the knee joint, removing material thought to be causing the inflammatory effect. Both of these constitute standard treatment for arthritic knees. The third group got ‘fake ‘surgery. The patient was sedated, Mosley made three standard incisions and then talked and acted just as he would have during real surgery-he even splashed saltwater to simulate the sound of the knee washing procedure. After 40 minutes, Mosley sewed up the incisions as if he had done the surgery. All three groups were prescribed the same postoperative care, which included an exercise program. 

The results were shocking. Yes, the group to receive surgery, as expected, improved. But the placebo group improved just as much as the other two groups! Despite the fact that there are 650,000 surgeries yearly for arthritic knees, at a cost of about $5000 each, the results were clear to Mosley: ‘My skill as a surgeon had no benefit on these patients. The entire benefit of surgery for osteoarthritis of the knee was the placebo effect.’ Television news programs graphically illustrated the stunning results. Footage showed members of the placebo group walking and playing basketball, in short doing things they reported they could not do before their ‘surgery. ’One member of the placebo group, Tim Perez, who had to walk with a cane before surgery, is now able to play basketball with his grandchildren.” Perez said, “In this world anything is possible when you put your mind to it. I know that your mind can work miracles.” 

Metaphor bipolar disorder mind mental. Double face. Concept mood disorder. Tangle and untangle

Lipton shares other reports of the placebo effect describing how it impacts medication for depression. He examined research on depressed patients who were given sugar pills instead of antidepressants. The research suggests that “…the difference between the response of the drugs and the response of placebo was less than two points on average on the clinical scale that goes from 50 to 60 points. This is a very small difference…clinically is meaningless.” Lipton states that with all the marketing that suggests how miraculous antidepressants can be makes them more effective because that marketing creates the belief. “Beliefs are contagious!” 

He describes how one person shared how stunned she was when she found that she had been on placebos for her depression. “Not only had the pills relieved her of the depression that had plagued her for 30 years, the brain scans she received throughout the study found that the activity of her prefrontal cortex was greatly enhanced. Her improvements were not at all in her head. When the mind changes, it absolutely affects your biology.” 

I wondered about the people in these research studies – did they know they were receiving placebo treatments?  He doesn’t say.  Nonetheless, I think this is powerful information that helps us appreciate how amazing we are as human beings and how miraculous our minds are, perhaps even more-so than our amazing bodies and brains! 

Invitation for Reflection 

  1. What are your reactions to this information? Are you as amazed as I am? Maybe you are a little skeptical. I really encourage my readers to check out this book because these are just two examples of some pretty powerful stuff!  
  2.  How does this information influence what you may now believe is true about the power of the mind to influence your biology? 
  3.  How could medical professionals and others use this information to help them better treat their patients? 

Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute