The human mind is capable of doing things no other creature’s in the world can do. We can trick ourselves into recuperating faster, feeling no pain, and even curing ourselves from a deadly disease. But the mind can also be easily influenced negatively and therefore be persuaded into thinking we are sick, when in reality, we are not. This effect is called the “nocebo effect”.
After the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin nerve gas attack, a wave of patients inundated hospitals reporting to be suffering from symptoms that were extensively covered in the media, like dizziness and muscle twitching. In the end, some were found to not have had any contact with the chemical despite experiencing the symptoms.
This is an example of the nocebo effect. When patients are told of possible symptoms, they might find themselves becoming more aware of their bodies and interpreting every itch or pain as a symptom.
Just like the more known placebo effect, a nocebo can impact the patient’s health by the mere suggestion of possible side effects, which then results in them expecting to get sick or ill, therefore their bodies respond to the messages their minds are sending.
Another case of such an effect is of a man who was suffering of depression and “overdosed” on a bottle of pills. He rushed to the ER after regretting his decision and was found to have low blood pressure and hyperventilation. After being examined, no trace of the drug was found in his body. The man had actually overdosed on sugar pills which were the placebo of a drug trial he was participating in. After finding out, he was relieved and all of his visible symptoms were gone.
Fabrizio Benedetti at the University of Turin Medical School has been studying brain waves of individuals who are subjected to nocebos, such as suggestions of illnesses or possible pain. During this process, Benedetti observed that the hypothalamus, the pituitary glands, and the adrenal glands became activated, all of which are triggered when humans feel threatened or scared.
If our thoughts are strong enough, our body can suffer because of the concoction of hormones created. In the end, the mind dominates the body.