The placebo effect may tap into our ability to self-heal
Our minds, when given the chance can become powerful healing tools. The so-called placebo effect is an idea that your brain can convince your body a fake treatment is real. This effect can be triggered by an inactive substance like a sugar pill, starch or distilled water.
It has been shown that placebos have measurable physiological effects depending on what the person is told. Sleep producing placebos can send participants to sleep. Stimulants can speed up pulse rates and increase blood pressure. They are shown to be effective for a range of stress-related conditions such as insomnia and pain management.
According to scientific research under the right circumstances, a placebo can be just as effective as traditional treatments.
Harvard affiliated Professor Ted Kaptchuk says:
“The placebo effect is more than positive thinking — believing a treatment or procedure will work. It’s about creating a stronger connection between the brain and body and how they work together,”
Placebos can even work when you know you are getting one. So they are working on the level of the subconscious and have a positive psychological effect.
The placebo effect in evidence-based fertility medicine
Evidence-based medicine for infertility includes a long and new list of baby treatment add-ons that fall in and out of favour almost yearly. The below is an extract from a Fertility and Sterility® publication in 2014.
Some past well-intended but abandoned strategies include diagnostic laparoscopy for all women, the hemi-zona sperm penetration test, postcoital testing, luteal-phase biopsy, and embryo tubal cell coculture. Contemporary strategies that lack evidence include luteal-phase estrace, endometrial scratching, and supplementation with DHEA, human chorionic gonadotropin, and/or growth hormone.
Reproductive medicine is a competitive field. There were over 80,000 cycles of fertility treatment in 2017/18 and numbers continue to rise year on year. A recent report estimated that the UK fertility market is worth £320 million per year. Over 60% of patients have to pay for their treatment in the UK. Treating an infertile couple is business, not just medicine.
- Are private fertility clinics offering tried and tested evidence-based infertility treatments? It seems not.
- Do competition and financial gain drive them? It seems highly likely.
- Are scientific medical professionals trying to evoke the placebo effect? Probably.
The fertility clinic medical staff probably hold the belief that these new add on treatments work. But at worst they could be reducing the pregnancy success rate and putting their clients at risk.
The scientific medical community often dismiss complementary medicine approaches as just tapping into the placebo effect. Rule no one of any treatment is that it should do no harm. Well, alternative methods such as hypnotherapy have stood the test of time and have been shown to offer proven benefit, with no known risk attached. Compared to the unproven, expensive add-on treatment being pushed by UK fertility clinics that can cost up to £3000 on top of standard fertility care, I know where I would put my money.
How can you tap into the fertility placebo effect?
Practising self-care and nurture. Give yourself attention and emotional support to help you feel more comfortable during your daily life. Breath-work, embodied meditation, hatha yoga, self-hypnosis, walks in nature.
While this is often not something you can easily measure, it can go a long way towards supporting you throughout your fertility journey. Be gentle with yourself.