anxiety

Placebo effect

It’s all in the mind….exploring the power of the placebo effect

pillThe placebo effect is a term used to describe the benefit someone derives from taking a ‘medicine’ that is, in fact, not a medicine.  When people take something they believe to be a medicine, the power of their belief causes a shift in their thinking which then in turn can influence the physiology of the body.

In 1955, the scientist Henry Beecher published the classic work entitled “The Powerful Placebo” and he was the first scientist to define the placebo effect. Since that time, the placebo effect has been considered a scientific fact and the placebo or ‘dummy’ pill has been used to test the validity of drugs and treatments.  Unless a drug exhibits effects that are greater than the placebo, the drug is not considered effective. This powerful effect can be as high as 30-40% in some cases. Depression for example, has a fairly high placebo rate – with many people reporting improvements in mood whilst taking the placebo pill.  Other researchers have found that 85% of the effectiveness of cough syrups can be attributed to placebo, leaving only a tiny 15% to be active medicine. Side effects have even been reported in healthy volunteers taking placebo pills during clinical studies.

Research has been conducted for quite a few years into the placebo effect and how we might harness this in medicine.  After all if people can get better taking a dummy pill, then why don’t we use this effect more often? Placebo pills are biologically inactive and are thus safe and (should) have no side effects!

positiveSo why does the placebo pill work?  Our beliefs and expectations can influence and modulate activity in areas of the brain that are involved with perception, pain and the processing of emotion.  Researchers have shown that our mental processes such as thoughts, feelings and beliefs as well as our will and intention can significantly influence brain function.   Once upon a time, science viewed the way the brain functions as rigid and difficult to influence - especially in adulthood. However, we now know that the brain is far more open to influence and change and is in fact not rigid but quite ‘plastic’.  The term ‘neural plasticity’ has been coined to represent the fact that brain function is malleable and open to influence by our own subjective intention.  Once we have control over the master organ – we then have far more control and influence over the rest of the body’s functions.

So if we can positively influence our physiology through the ‘placebo’ effect – is it possible that we can negatively influence our body function through negative thinking?  This has, in fact, been shown to be true and has been given the term the ‘nocebo’ effect.  The nocebo effect has been scientifically proven, showing that with negative messages and verbal suggestions a patient can experience a worsening of their disease experience and outcome. It is not all just in the mind either – as blood tests shown increased inflammatory and pain markers after a nocebo procedure.

drpatEven when someone is given a diagnosis of illness – particularly serious or life threatening illness – the nocebo effect can start to operate.  This is why I find it counterproductive when well-meaning medical specialists tell a patient that they have “3 months to live” or they give similar limited predictions and opinions.  Research has shown that the anxiety and stress that this causes can negatively influence pain, immunity and mood – and go on to negatively influence the disease progression.

Another aspect of this mind over matter business is when a person creates an illness. In these cases, that despite the inconvenience and suffering of the disease, the experience is giving the patient some other positive reward.

I love bringing mind-body aspects into healing as it can really support healthy outcomes. Helping people to see how their thinking and beliefs influence all aspects of their physical health and subjective experiences is really rewarding. Even asking the question how their disease may be benefiting them often brings many insights and shifts.

So if we have a choice to influence our physical reality with positive or negative thinking and beliefs – then why not focus on the positive!

herb trial

Are you or a friend experiencing anxiety or depression?

You are Invited to Participate in a Herbal Medicine Clinical Trial

Karen is a lead practitioner in an ongoing research project that is evaluating the effectiveness of herbal medicine on the management of depression and anxiety. 
chamomileThe research is being jointly conducted by Endeavour College of Natural Health and the University of Technology Sydney and sponsored by Mediherb.
Herbal medicine offers a very effective tool for the management of mild to moderate depression and anxiety. Karen uses over 20 medicinal plants that have both research and clinical effectiveness for the treatment of mental health issues. Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety are increasingly common in our modern busy lives and can have a major impact on our quality of life, happiness and wellbeing. Utilising natural and effective herbal medicines can make a big difference and do not come with the standard side effects of mainstream drugs.

Your Medicine Costs Will Be Covered

The research data in this trial will be gathered over 3 consultations and any herbal medicines prescribed will be free of charge to the study participants for the three sessions. The study allows for flexibility of prescribing as the researchers are seeking to test the therapies as they are practised in the ‘real world’ by naturopaths.  Any of the medicines that Karen prescribes during your consultation to support your treatment aims will be dispensed and mailed out to you free of charge after your consultations.

Who is eligible for treatment and participation?

Holy Basil - a great herb for supporting the adrenals and nerves.

Holy Basil - a great herb for supporting the adrenals and nerves.

Only new patients or exisiting patients who I haven't recently treated for anxiety or depression will qualify. You must be experiencing depression or anxiety that has either been previously diagnosed medically or if you have a sense that you are experiencing mild to moderate depression or anxiety that is affecting your quality of life in some way, you are eligible to participate.

What if I am on medication already?

You can already be on pharmaceutical medication for depression or anxiety and still participate. There are some herbs we need to be careful not to prescribe in combination with various medications, but there are many more which can be used and could possibly improve medication outcomes.  Karen is highly experienced at managing these conditions with herbal medicines and also complimenting treatment with standard therapies when necessary.

What is the benefit for me?

While the regular consultation fee is charged for your three consultations, if you participate in the trial, you will receive your herbal medicine prescription free of charge as consideration for completing the necessary forms for the three consultations which are part of the study. Your treatment will still be personalised and prescribed on your individual needs and not be standardised to be the same for everyone. This is important research as it reflects how we use herbs in our naturopathic practice in an everyday application.
All going well, you are also highly likely to experience a positive change in your mental health! 

If I say "Yes", what will it involve?

lemonbalmIf you wish to be involved, you will need to commit to three consultation sessions which will be between 1-4 weeks apart, depending on the patient. The research component will only take a small amount of your time in addition to your consultation. You will have to complete five forms initially (one demographic form and four assessment questionnaires) at the initial consultation. After that there are four forms (the assessment questionnaires only) to be completed at the two subsequent follow-up consultations. These forms will take about 15 minutes to complete and will help to gather data to illustrate how the treatment is going. Due to the personal nature of this topic, some questions might make some people feel slightly embarrassed or uncomfortable, but are important for the treatment to be properly evaluated.
Karen will also provide detailed information about the herbal medicine treatment provided at each consultation and general advice on stress management and lifestyle.

What is the next step if I want to be involved?

You can learn more information about the study by visiting this website: http://herbsonthehill.com.au/anxiety-and-depression-study
If you would like to be involved, you can simply book online an appointment with Karen via clicking online bookings at either Buderim or Noosa clinics. 
Or you can call the Noosa clinic on 5449 7088 for Noosa bookings.
Just book a regular appointment if you are an exisiting patient or an initial appointment if you are a new patient. Please make sure you mention in the booking notes or to the receptionist that you wish to be involved in the trial, so the necessary paperwork can be prepared for you.  You will need to arrive a little earlier to fill the forms in, or they can be emailed out to you.
Here are some background forms for you to peruse about the trial before making your decision.

Looking forward to helping your heal with herbal plant power!

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To me Karen is an absolute angel! I highly recommend Karen to anyone who is going through the whole ‘roller coaster’ journey of IVF. It was so lovely to actually have someone that actually listened to me, it was in 2010 when we decided we would give IVF one last go before having a break. Karen put me on a super tonic which I call her ‘magic potion’ and after a few weeks in taking this my FSH levels dropped dramatically and this was my lucky month and my dream had finally came true. I always feel so positive every time I leave Karen’s rooms, I’m so glad that I found her I can never thank her enough for my positive out come!
Megan Wolarczuk
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