cover image The Placebo Response: How You Can Release the Body's Inner Pharmacy for Better Health

The Placebo Response: How You Can Release the Body's Inner Pharmacy for Better Health

Howard T. Brody. HarperCollins, $25 (312pp) ISBN 978-0-06-019493-2

Brody (The Healer's Power) offers an engrossing and illuminating look at the placebo response and how it can be harnessed to promote physical and mental well-being. Brody, director of the Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences at Michigan State University, defines the placebo effect broadly: he views it as a large set of processes, the ""mysterious phenomenon of the mind working in tandem with the body."" That is, Brody explains, we all have an ""inner pharmacy"" containing healing chemicals--endorphins, for example--that can be activated by signals from the environment in the way that healing responses are often evoked by the surreptitious replacement of medication by a sugar pill (a ""placebo"")--the medication is fake, but the healing response is real. Rigorous and thorough, Brody (with his coauthor and wife) presents a comprehensive array of scientific studies to support his theory, starting with Dr. Henry Beecher's influential 1955 article, ""The Powerful Placebo,"" which broke ground by studying suffering and healing within a group of soldiers in WWII as compared with civilians. A careful scientist, Brody also includes the arguments of researchers who disagree with him, and he tells a personal story about his wife's experience with the placebo response. Readers, however, will likely be more interested in Brody's advice on how they can stimulate their own inner pharmacy to combat illness. The author argues that key elements for stimulating healing are constructing a meaningful story about the condition, being open to alternative and traditional medicine, finding a physician with whom you can form a healing partnership and maintaining positive social connections. (June)