Q: My sister has battled chronic pain for years. When she joined a clinical trial for a new pain reliever, her pain virtually disappeared. It turned out she was given a useless sugar pill — a placebo. So was the pain all in her head?
Gladys F., Atlanta
A: Great question! Actually, that useless sugar pill wasn't so useless; it demonstrated, and we are enthusiastic believers in, the power of the mind and spirit to transform lives and improve health. The placebo effect is proof that you have the mental power to alter your biochemistry (we now have the tools to measure a placebo's effect and see that it is not self-delusion, it's science). Brain scans show that when a placebo eases pain (and it often does), your brain activity changes: You're altering the biological process of pain response. One of our favorite examples is a group of people with irritable bowel syndrome who were told they were taking a placebo. After three weeks, 59 percent of them saw improvements in their symptoms that were as good as if they'd been taking powerful IBS medication. Seems being aware that placebos can trigger a positive mind/body response is enough to make them effective. No deception required. So don't make fun of your sister's experience with the placebo; instead, congratulate her on harnessing her inner powers of better health!
If you want to use your mind to improve your health, you don't need a sugar pill. Certain mind/body activities can ease a variety of symptoms and help you heal your body. Consciously cultivate optimism. Explore the good side of events and people around you. And reaffirm your positive traits, actions and aspirations. Switch your focus from symptoms associated with any condition you may have. Instead, start doing things you know can reduce inflammation and make you feel better: meditate, get plenty of physical activity, volunteer to help others and eliminate the Five Food Felons from your diet (saturated and trans fat, added sugars and syrups and all grains that aren't 100 percent whole).
Q: My kids, 4 and 6, and I have been following your advice on nutrition and weight. We banished the Five Food Felons — well, mostly — and we walk every night after dinner. My kids seem healthier, and I've dropped 12 pounds. What else should we do to stay healthy?
Cut pounds of stomach fat every week by using this 1 weird old tip.