Most of us have heard of “the placebo effect,” the heal-inducing effect patients in clinical trials experience when they believe they’re getting a fancy new drug or surgery but are actually getting fake treatment. The placebo effect is real, it works about 18-80% of the time, and it’s not just in your head – it actually dilates bronchi, heals ulcers, makes warts disappear, drops your blood pressure, and even makes bald men who think they’re getting Rogaine grow hair!

Unwanted Side Effects

But the placebo effect has a shadow side. The same mind-body power that can heal you can also harm you. When patients in double-blinded clinical trials are warned about the side effects they may experience if they’re given the real drug, approximately 25% experience sometimes severe side effects, even when they’re only taking sugar pills.

Those treated with nothing more than placebos often report fatigue, vomiting, muscle weakness, colds, ringing in the ears, taste disturbances, memory disturbances, and other symptoms that shouldn’t result from a sugar pill.

Interestingly, these nocebo complaints aren’t random; they tend to arise in response to the side effect warnings on the actual drug or treatment. The mere suggestion that a patient may experience negative symptoms in response to a medication (or a sugar pill) may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, if you tell a patient treated with a placebo he might experience nausea, he’s likely to feel nauseous. If you suggest that he might get a headache, he may. Patients given nothing but saline who thought it was chemotherapy actually threw up and lost their hair!

When You Think You’re Going To Die… 

In another study, patients about to undergo surgery who were “convinced” of their impending death were compared to another group of patients who were merely “unusually apprehensive” about death. While the apprehensive bunch fared pretty well, those who were convinced they were going to die usually did.

Similarly, women who believed they were prone to heart disease were four times more likely to die. It’s not because these women had poorer diets, higher blood pressure, higher cholesterol, or stronger family histories than the women who didn’t get heart disease. The only difference between the two groups was their beliefs.

The nocebo effect is probably most obvious in “voodoo death,” when a person is cursed, told they will die, and then dies.  The notion of voodoo death doesn’t just apply to witch doctors in tribal cultures. The literature shows that patients believed to be terminal who are mistakenly informed that they have only a few months to live have died within their given time frame, even when autopsy findings reveal no physiological explanation for the early death.

Dr. Steve’s Story

In response to what I said in my latest TEDx talk about the placebo effect’s evil twin, “the nocebo effect,” L. Chas sent me an email, telling me the story of her brother Steve, who was a physician-diagnosed with the exact same illness that was his specialty. When he was diagnosed with malignant tumors in both lungs, he was told by his doctors that he had five years to live, and knowing what he knew about the disease, Steve believed this.

Exactly 5 years later, to the day, he was snorkeling in Maui when he was found, unconscious on the shore. Steve was resuscitated, but he had been without oxygen to the brain for over four minutes and wound up in a coma until his family chose to withdraw life support.

L. Chas wrote, “More than anything else, I think my brother believed that, when diagnosed with his disease, a patient has ‘5 good years left’.  Just as you’ve said in your videos – the nocebo effect. So sad it had to go this way.”

Medical Hexing

Every time your doctor tells you you have an “incurable” illness or that you’ll be on medication for the rest of your life or that you have a 5% five year survival, they’re essentially cursing you with a form of “medical hexing.” They don’t mean to. They’re not trying to harm you. They know not what they do…

Doctors think they’re telling it to you straight, that you deserve to know, that you should be realistic and make arrangements, if necessary. But when they say such things, they instill in your conscious and subconscious mind a belief that you won’t get well, and as long as the mind holds this negative belief, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe you’ll never recover, you won’t.

The Moral Of This Story

After reading through the 3500+ case studies documented in the medical literature in the Spontaneous Remission Project, which was compiled by the Institute of Noetic Sciences, I now believe there’s no such thing as an incurable illness. If you or someone you love is suffering from a “chronic,” “incurable,” or “terminal” illness and you want to optimize the chance for spontaneous remission, you have to start by cleansing your mind of any negative beliefs that will sabotage your self-healing efforts. My upcoming book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself (which you can now pre-order at Amazon or Barnes and Noble!)  offers tips for how you can change your negative beliefs to positive ones in order to optimize your chances

What Do You Believe? 

Do you believe you’ll be on meds for the rest of your life? Are you resigned to the prognosis your doctor gave you? Or are you motivated to try to activate your body’s innate self-repair mechanisms by shifting your beliefs from negative ones to positive ones?

Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

With faith in your journey,

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  1. Phyllis Perry

    Lissa, thanks for reinforcing my belief with the research. The first thing I heard when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis was, “There is no cure, but if you inject yourself with these drugs (indefinitely) there’s a chance you won’t end up debilitated.” I know enough now to understand that the
    medical certainty that I was given was not necessarily a truth and that my own will and actions and attitude can allow me to stay healthy and active. I love my doctors and I take those injections, but I also believe that healing is my destiny.

  2. Nadya Andreeva

    Lissa, this is such a great article! I’ve seen it work on myself when my ovarian cysts disappeared after a year of ayurvedic nutrition and positive daily visualizations. I later saw it happening with my clients when women had amazing fertility and digestion improvement results!

    What we feed ourselves mentally and emotionally has as much if not more of an impact than the actual food that we eat!
    Thank you for sharing! I’ll post on my to share with my following!

  3. Beth Duncan

    I have Type I diabetes and tried to believe that I could be healed through many types of energy healing but nothing has helped. I eventually realized that being told there was no cure and I’d be on insulin for the rest of my life became a belief I just can’t shake. I keep trying but the belief is so deep-seated I haven’t (YET) been able to let it go.

  4. Melanie Brown

    Great article Lissa, I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer 6 years ago. In the past 3 years the doctors have told me 3 times to get my affairs in order and call hospice. I don’t listen to them when they tell me these things, I tell myself they are making the best decisions they can with the experience and knowledge they have available to them but I don’t need to own their words. I appreciated they have their opinions but they don’t know me and I choose to not take their words home with me. So far it has worked pretty well…:)

  5. Melanee Carmella Packard

    Hi, Dr. Lissa! I was SO happy to have come across your presentation video. Almost 2 years ago I was ‘diagnosed’ with “Sudden Adult Onset Asthma” along with “Steriod induced Type 2 Diabetes” after a sinus infection had ‘gone to my chest’ and prevented me from breathing easily. Since those 2 diagnoses, I have been over-inundated with SO many chemicals from the physicians that I have seen. I no longer take many of them because I KNOW that I can cure this myself; however, I’ve not been able to do so thus far. It soothed me to know that I’m not the only person on the planet that believes that, if my body created the dis-ease, that it can correct it, too. I can’t WAIT until the release of your book!!! I SO hope that there’s information within it that will spark that ‘light’ in me to bring on the healing. I don’t want these dis-eases. I am unable to live a ‘normal’ life with them – I can’t play with my children anymore, I can’t play with our dogs anymore and forget about sex! Oh, how I miss sex. *and so does my husband*…so I’m eagerly awaiting your knowledge so that I may unblock whatever seems to be blocking my healing. I want my life back!

    With love and gratitude!

  6. Emily Mabee

    I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2000. I had a lumpectomy, axillary lymph glands removes, 6 mos. of chemotherapy and 28 radiation treatment. I truly believed it was gone forever. Last Feb I was diagnosed with cancer again in the same breast, Had surgery and reconstruction at the same time. then I found I need radiation again and took 28 more treatments. I just finished my reconstruction (after 9 mos ). Now I imagine all sorts of fearful things, like the cancer coming back under my implant. I am totally freaked this time. Not like last time when i believed it was gone for good. My Dr says i am very lucky and put me Femara for 5 years. Last time I was on Arimidex for 5 years. I am 69 and in really good health otherwise. I exercise, eat right and am 5’5″ and weigh 135. My Grandmother, whose home I now live in died at age 70. She had had a breast removed some years before her death. No I have this morbid fear of following in her footsteps. I try to banish negative thought and fears but wake up in the middle of the night with near panic. I don’t know how to change all this.

    • jane hand

      I was told I could not receive radiation after my cancer returned decades later as I already had it so I am surprised you had it twice.

      Please look into the book the iodine crisis and you may banish breast cancer forever. curtezone also has a forum on iodine

      also look into the raw vegan diet (85 to 100% raw whole foods, masive amounts of carrot and carrot spinach juice and juices and smoothis especially green drinks and juice fasting, do Dr Richards Schulze’s incurables program and look into modified citrus pectin. Take esiac tea with the sheep sorrel roots not just the leaves, Take organic echinacea to boost immune system (or astragalus) and organic chaparral tincture 5 times a day and so forth

      even if one has a genetic preposition to cancer that does not mean you have to die from it or even get it lifestyle massive changes are important.

      People far worst than you or I (I have triple negative breast cancer an am not following Dr recommendations trying to cure it naturally but I did have lumpectomy but although do not seem to have in rest of Brewster or lymph nodes it did invade a blood vessel so scared it has or will have spread.

      do check out the iodine and the raw diet as some of the most helpful also cleanse the elimination organs as shown in dr schulze’s incurables program access hi videos and the audio series on cancer at kickas s torrents for free

      It is not easy to change negative thoughts all you can do is read books that help and keep trying and practicing–it is important to healing.

      repeat over and over I am healthy I follw my own fotsteps not my grandmas she did not know how to cure it and I do and so forth (do not use the thoughts like I will not follow grandma’s path as the mind discounts the word not and see I will follow..path so word your affirmations in a positive way not I an not sick but rather I am healthy in every way.

  7. Cj17

    Hi Lissa, I’ve been interested in your work as someone who is also medical but from a health psychology background. I think there is more to these things than you suggest. What about those people who are naturally prone towards negative affectivity, are they to feel guilty that they can’t sort their head out with positive thoughts and therefore are the ones actually making themselves sick? I think it’s somewhat socially irresponsible to suggest that to these people. Guilt is a discrete emotion which has also been linked to negative health outcomes – which is the lesser of the two? Guilt from not being able to think positively or a natural tendency towards negative affect? The other point I think your blog lacks is the ethical perspective, I know and have seen during experiments how powerful the mind is and the evidence for the nocebo effect, but is it really simply this cut and dry? I am not sure but are you suggesting some merit to doctors choosing to omit information? What makes us think we are the best people to make the call on what information someone is armed with? Isn’t that a little bit like playing god? I don’t need to go into the ethical problems with this as they are obvious. I do like what you are saying and do not disagree with you that information really matters to outcomes, but what i realky want to know is what do you think is a realistic way to approach this is for health professionals, because surely if you are suggesting the above, health professionals must be able to make contributions to better outcomes for their patients too.

  8. Alissa Carscallen

    What about Bipolar Disorder? I’ve had severe depression with SI my whole life & was recently diagnosed with Bipolar. If it’s the brain that cures you, how does that work when you have a brain dysfunction that specifically diminishes your ability to think positively?

  9. Kj Raveling Grimmett

    3 years ago I had some routine blood work done as part of my yearly physical. Two days later my physician called me personally to tell me to get to the hospital right away. My calcium levels were through the roof. I worked 30 minutes away from home. She asked if I’d been having stomach pain or headaches. I had had a migraine the week before I told her. She said, don’t go home, just get here we need to get you started on IV fluids pronto. I work in healthcare so I know what high calcium levels can mean. I called my husband and then called a close friend who is also a physician who said she’d meet me at the hospital. My colleague told me I didn’t look sick and felt I was really okay. (that helped!)
    I tried to drive as slow as I could legally. I began feeling ill and my mind was going in a million different directions. By the time I got to the hospital I was full of adrenaline and calm, but chaotic mess. My husband and daughter arrived, my physician friend came in and told me “you look good for someone supposedly so sick!” The lab staff drew blood. Calcium levels were normal. My doc came in and said she wanted me to stay the night and do some more tests. Needless to say I didn’t sleep. I felt awful, my head hurt, my stomach hurt and yet, something deep within was saying “there is nothing wrong with you” Tests don’t lie right? In the course of two weeks I had two CT scans, an ultrasound and several blood tests all of which were normal. It came to light that the blood sent to a distant lab had frozen the specimen so when they tested the calcium levels they were high due to their lab error. Of course, all the sudden, I felt much, much better. I learned how powerful the nocebo-effect was in a false diagnosis. Our beliefs have tremendous power to heal and to construct the sensations of illness.
    I also believe that illness is part of living on this planet. We experience things as a result of our genetics, response to stress, environment, eating habits, etc. What we do with that when we are diagnosed with a disease, given a time line, or a prescription for lifestyle change is very personal in response. I do believe the body talks to us. It wants to perform well and can only do so when we feed it the right foods, give it the proper rest it needs and honor the spirit residing within. Sometimes its learning to love harder, forgive more and live each feel good moment we have even though our bodies may not follow the healing path we’d like it to. A pill may be just the ticket to starting a healthier lifestyle. But, the pill won’t do it alone. A timeline may mean we get so caught up in living that we forget what time it is until several years down the road we say “oh yeah, forgot about that” because we are too busy enjoying the now.
    I still get physicals, but now I ask my doc what is ” right” with me and its a lot more fun.

  10. TM859

    Lissa, I see this with a good friend of mine whose 21-y.o. son was diagnosed a couple of months ago with Ewing’s sarcoma. At first, he seemed so convinced that this was something his son could beat, in spite of the doctors saying there was no cure for it, but now, he’s letting the negative thoughts take over, even though his son’s response to the chemo has been very good and is right on track for achieving remission. He tells me that he struggles, even though his son is doing well with treatment, because the doctors tell him there’s no hope for a total recovery and there’s no way to know how long he’ll stay in remission. I try to be positive and tell him that every case is unique, and there’s nothing that’s stopping his son from beating the odds–doctors don’t know everything, they can’t predict the future with certainty for any one individual, they deal in averages and statistics–but when the doctors tell him otherwise, and warn that this cancer WILL return, it’s hard for him stay positive. I know they’re just trying to prepare his family for what MAY happen, given their knowledge and experience with this disease, but every time he talks to me about it, I hear your words in my head and think that those well-meaning doctors are doing exactly what you said–hexing this poor kid. I don’t know how open he would be to it, but I’d love to give him and his son your book to read. Maybe it would help.

  11. Erica Meloe

    Wow, Lissa, amazing words. As I read the comments, I am amazed and awed by the strength of these men and women. I am a believer in the placebo and nocebo effect and as a healthcare provider I often see patients who tell me, ” I was so comforted by your words, my pain went away” or “You told me I could so such and such, so I did it and it felt fine”. The nervous system and the human brain are amazing together! Cannot wait for your book. Hope to see you in NYC at the Hay House Conference.


  12. sarah

    Thanks for this. It reminds me of my mother who has had chronic back
    pain for years. It got worse after her divorce from my father, whilst me
    and my brother were living with her (both in our early twenties). For a
    while I thought it was the stress of it all and she would pull through,
    but her symptoms dragged on for years. I had a hunch that she was using
    her illness as a way to keep me and my bro from leaving home, as well
    as get some fuss, so I started treating her as if she was well, pulling
    back somewhat from playing a caring nurse. Guess what – she got her act
    together, started seeing a physio, doing pilates every day, and now even
    though she occasionally has a pulled muscle, she’s never bed-ridden or
    out for weeks.

    So sometimes people believe the
    negative diagnosis or ‘give in’ to their health issue because they’re
    gaining something out of it – illness sure can get you

  13. marthac

    I believe somewhat . i had a grandfather who thought he was going to die after his first heart attack at 50. He was a hypochondriac to no end. he lived through 5 heart attacks and died at the ripe age of 92. i also know a man who was given a death sentence a year ago. he calls occasionally to say goodbye and he is still alive (and in terrible health). i have a montra on my refrigerator reminding me that i am in perfect health, but stuff keeps happening to me. i don’t get it!

  14. SarahLawrenceHinson

    Thanks Lissa so much for posting this…will be sharing. Attending an NLP course with Richard Bandler over 16 years ago now I was heartened to see doctors and nurses in attendance, aware that if they changed their language it could help their patients (that was in the UK). Medical hexing is real! I had my first OB appt on 9/11 and every doctor after that looked at my chart and said ‘You have high blood pressure’ because that is what they are trained to do…this was at a Navy teaching hospital in VA. I would stop them and say, “No, I don’t” and point to the date and the rest of the readings (where my blood pressure was going back to normal). I had reflexology to help with the pregnancy, I know that was a factor in my staying healthy, but just imagine a pregnant woman in my position who didn’t know this. Looking forward to your book!

    A Mom On A Spiritual Journey

  15. Robin Barben

    I love your statement, “There is no such thing as an incurable disease.” And it was nice to see people proving this, in the comments following your article! I too, have had spontaneous healings; things like pneumonia, a broken knee cap, and severe trauma to my back after a car accident. This healing was possible because 1) I wouldn’t let the pain and fear entice me into believing negative suggestions that would only lead me down the path of brokenness and of permanent pain. And 2) I understood the principles that gave me the right to stand up to these claims.
    Through prayer (my understanding and practice of the principles of Health, and the contemplation on the continual presence of my spiritual wholeness,) my pneumonia suddenly, instantaneously healed; and my knee cap was restored perfectly in two weeks, without surgery or the help of a medical doctor. And instead of going to the hospital with a severe case of whiplash, in which I could hardly blink my eyes without pain; I went to work and hung wallpaper (praying with each breath I took.) In one week, my back was normal, and I never have suffered any further back problems.
    I am so thankful you are making people aware of harmful influences, which can infiltrate our thought, our resolve, and our hope, can be guarded against. I also pray that we all gain a better understanding of the principles that make this possible!!! Thank you for sharing this lovely

    • moatz elmalawany

      so there is no incurable diseases?

  16. DM

    Lissa, I really appreciate this post. I was recently diagnosed with an incurable disease, which I had apparently had for some time without symptoms. Once I learned I had it, I began displaying symptoms regularly, I believe this was all because of my awareness of the disease. I look forward to your new book and learning how to overcome this disease.

  17. Anna Suvorova

    Loving it to every word. Living it too. Thank you for putting it so beautifully. Look forward to the book.

  18. Ronald

    April 2009 someone close to me was diagnosed with malignant breast cancer and strongly advised to undergo a mastectomy, to be followed up by chemotherapy, one week later. The night before the operation I watched a video about German New Medicine (GNM) and it all made such sense that we ended up canceling the operation and a few weeks later say goodbye to traditional medicine altogether. It turns out that in the case of most cancers, the cell proliferation appears in the ‘healing phase’ (disease is always ‘two-phased’) and this is when the body is removing the extra cells by itself. Sounds wishy washy I know, but further study on this subject showed me that traditional medicine has it upside down. Do you still really believe that the ‘immune system’ attacks its own host? That tumors trick the immune system so it leaves them alone? That tumors trick the body into making new blood vessels to support them (angiogenesis), etc??? One more thing: if chemotherapy (poisoning the body) was an alternative therapy, it would never have been approved by the FDA, because it’s such a dangerous practice and so totally barbarian that it baffles me to see how nobody seems to question it (been there, almost done that too, so can’t really blame anyone) – let this sink in! Anyway, three months after that horrible diagnose the two malignant tumors were gone and up to this day everything is more than fine. Most important is the fact that knowing GNM also takes away any fear for ‘dis-ease’ and the believe in all those creepy little things out there that might invade the body and make you sick… In other words: the pharmaceutical business (also called ‘health care’) lost a few more customers on us… GNM explains the biological ‘mechanism’ of what we call disease, but you can take it even further, as shown in the above article which makes it clear that doctors are (like vodoo priests) among the worst ‘nocebo’s’ possible… Live the mystery instead of try to figure everything out (pure logic is a myth of the mind). Cheers

  19. aylasara

    Musings have their own vitality, despite the fact that a great many people don’t understand it. That is the reason you have a tendency to be depleted on the off chance that you are around somebody who has a tendency to whine more often than not.

    Cancer Science Journal


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