Worrying Yourself Sick? Science Has a Cure

Doctors pinpoint the so-called 'nocebo' effect

By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff

Posted Nov 13, 2011 5:00 PM CST

(Newser) – Worried that it's unhealthy to be glued to the Internet, surfing through stories? That anxiety alone could cause health problems—and doctors are now uncovering the neurological roots of this so-called "nocebo" effect, according to an award-winning essay by Penny Sarchet in the Guardian. The opposite of the "placebo" effect, the "nocebo" effect occurs when people believe that an illness or side-effect is real. Turns out it's all in the mind, and scientists can pinpoint it.

Recent studies have shown that "nocebo" pain shows up in MRI scans, and can be stopped by blocking the neurochemicals responsible for transmitting the expectation of pain into real pain. Now, a few interesting repercussions: Should doctors protect themselves from malpractice by listing possible side-effects, even though that may cause them? And should we trust or only half-trust our own doctors? "As scientists begin to determine how the nocebo effect works, we would do well to use their findings to manage that most 21st-century of all diseases—anxiety," Sarchet writes. (On the lighter side, check out a few weird ailments from the Hypochondriac's Handbook.)

Scientists have uncovered the neurological roots of the so-called nocebo effect—the way our beliefs affect our physical health.
Scientists have uncovered the neurological roots of the so-called "nocebo effect"—the way our beliefs affect our physical health.   (Shutterstock)
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