Think Sick, Be Sick – The Nocebo Effect

By Michael Dorausch, D.C.

Chances are you have heard of the placebo effect. The effectiveness of the placebo has been studied at numerous universities and has shown impressive results.

Recently, the placebo effect was demonstrated in a highly publicized study involving knee surgery. The operation, estimated to be performed about 300,000 times a year on U.S. patients with arthritis was found to be completely ineffective, as 100% of patients reported reduced pain and better knee function after a sham (placebo) procedure was performed.

The word placebo comes from the Latin verb “placere”, that means “to please.” Think you are going to be healthy, and experience better health. Believe that your operation will be a success, and it is a success. Simply put, it could be summed up as the power of positive thinking. A mind-body connection so to speak.

While the placebo is meant to please, the word nocebo, is Latin for “I will harm.” A recent article in the Washington Post referred to the Nocebo Effect as the “Placebo’s Evil Twin.” Less people are familiar with the nocebo phenomenon.

According to the Post article, it was ten years ago that researchers came across a striking finding. They found, “Women who believed that they were prone to heart disease were nearly four times as likely to die as women with similar risk factors who didn’t hold such fatalistic views.” It was pointed out that the increased risk of death had nothing to do with age, weight, blood pressure, etc. They found instead, “it tracked closely with belief. Think sick, be sick.”

Researchers have suggested that some people become convinced that something is going to go wrong, and indeed something does go wrong. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Robert Hahn, PhD, an epidemiologist at the CDC and an authority on the nocebo phenomenon, explains the concept this way: “The nocebo hypothesis proposes that expectations of sickness and the affective states associated with such expectations cause sickness in the expectant.”

For more information on the nocebo effect, take a look at the article and an earlier article I found archived on (links below)

Washington Post: The Nocebo Effect: Placebo’s Evil Twin
Hippocrates: The Nocebo Effect – Scattered studies suggest that negative thinking can harm patients’ health. @ 8:50 am | Article ID: 1029772251