Faith’s Healing Effect


Another article referencing Dr. Ted Kaptchuk’s research has caught my eye. December’s article in National Geographic on the “The Healing Power of Faith” provides an alternate look at his research, leading to insights I hadn’t previously put together. The article takes the placebo effect Dr. Kaptchuk’s team found one step farther.

Dr. Kaptchuk’s team found that when patients are educated about the power of placebo and encouraged to have a positive attitude, the placebos provided to the patients work by affecting endorphin, endocannabinoid, and dopamine receptors in the brain causing positive results in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome.

The article speaks of the “the theater of medicine” which draws us in by creating expectations in our brains. This effect can be seen in traditional and non- traditional medical treatments. Inhaling vapors, acupuncture, sacrificial ceremonies can all release the same neurotransmitters released when taking a placebo. White coats, elaborate surgical suites, aseptic rooms with medicinal smells, can all do the same thing. If the patient’s belief is stimulated, a patient’s outcome can be improved!

The same article referenced Dr. Luana Colleca from the University of Maryland. Her research has confirmed the opposite of the placebo effect known as the nocebo effect. When we expect pain or unpleasant sensations, neurotransmitters in the brain, like dopamine and even hormones, are affected potentiating the negative effect measurably and profoundly.

Religious belief has the same ability to make us feel “inexplicably better” the article states. The article references how “the form of a touch by the Holy Spirit or a dip in the water of the Ganges [River] shows how the healing power of belief is all around us.”

Lastly, the article references Chiara Biccellari, who is a guide at the shrine of St. Catherine. She is quoted as saying “if you have doubt you will receive nothing”.

So, let the spirit of the holidays fill you! The egg nog, the candy, the music, the “theater”, can all create a “placebo effect” for you! Just remember, in order to receive it you must, as Macy’s puts it, Believe.