I believe in placebos

I once spent a drizzly Sunday afternoon playing Scrabble with my mother-in-law. She was having a hard time recovering from her stroke and Scrabble was her favorite game. Before the stroke no one could beat her. I made a double batch of cookies and stuffed them full of oatmeal, chocolate chips, sun dried cherries and coconut. As she struggled over and over to spell words she once found effortless, we managed to eat the entire batch of cookies, just the two of us.

Did the cookies help cure my mother in-law’s stroke? I believe, for that one day, they did. She definitely played Scrabble better than she would have without them. Her recovery was a long and painful process and those cookies eased the pain a bit that afternoon.

The word ‘placebo’ is defined as “a harmless pill, medicine, or procedure prescribed more for the psychological benefit to the patient than for any physiological effect.” This could take many forms. Vitamins. Crystals and stones, home alarm systems—these all are alternately proven and disproven to be healthful and real. But as we take our vitamins every morning, don’t we recite (at least in our minds)  “ . . . glucosamine for joint health, co-q-10 for mental clarity and improved heart health . . . “? Yes we now have scientific proof of the benefits of vitamins, but the most important benefit may be that we believe in them and the litany we recite to ourselves as we swallow them. How many of us collect stones and crystals, thinking “ . . . citrine brings wealth, black tourmaline protects from negative energies . . .” . And, how many sports figures are superstitious about the socks they wear during a winning streak, or a lucky glove?

When my son was very young I placed a kiss on the back of his hand after I put on my lipstick. Looking at it seemed to help calm him if his school day got difficult. And how many times have we made our children’s ‘ouchies’ feel better just by kissing them?

Studies show those of us who get a kiss in the morning go off to have a better day at work than those who don’t. Children almost always cling to a blanket or stuffed animal for comfort. And it works—ask any parent. I don’t know about you but I’d rather believe something I’m doing is making me well. It feels good to believe we’re getting better, and feeling good helps us get better.

On the subject of placebos, the website ‘I f**king love science’ wrote “If you’re not completely blown away by the power of placebo, then you don’t know enough about it. It’s the closest I’ve ever seen to actual magic.” Placebos work even if the person taking them knows they’re placebos, found one Harvard study. It’s a physics principle—the observer affects the experiment.

We use placebos all the time in our lives. Mostly we are unconscious about it. But . . . what if we began doing it consciously, surrounding our environment with items we know make us feel healthier, more productive, calmer? It may feel silly at first but no one is looking, so why not? What if it works?


  1. Cori MacNaughton · August 19, 2017

    Right there with you.

    I was once taking care of a friend’s two-year-old when he took a bad spill and severely scraped his knee. In addition to cleaning and bandaging his knee, I gave him a lemon drop, but before letting him take it, I lowered my voice to a whisper (we were alone) and swore him to secrecy, telling him that it was a magic pill that would take away his pain and make him heal super fast. He was delighted, both with the “magic pill,” and with the fact that I told him a secret.

    When his mom got home, he was all smiles and told her that his knee didn’t hurt at all, and the best part is that she told me later that his knee really did heal super fast. The power of belief. 😉


  2. Krissko · June 2, 2017

    This is beautiful and was needed
    Thank you


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