The Placebo Effect — Friend or Foe of Biohackers?
The placebo effect is a perplexingly persistent piece to the puzzle of health.
The gold standard of health science is double-blinded, placebo-controlled human clinical trials. If a health supplement or drug statistically and consistently outperforms placebos in studies then it’s likely worth trying to empower your mind and body or overcome health challenges. But the placebo effect is more complicated and promising than that, this article will delve into some of the fascinating science done on the placebo effect itself and the implications for your biohacking efforts.
First of all the placebo effect is nothing to disregard, it’s not a silly wuwu thing, it’s such a consistent factor in bioscience that every good human clinical study accounts for it. When hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars are spent to conduct rigorous human clinical trials scientists must carefully account for the placebo effect or else their results will be skewed and rendered useless.
There’s a fascinating book, You Are the Placebo, that documents a number of historical and contemporary cases of the placebo effect…
- A Baylor College of Medicine study of 180 patients suffering from osteoarthritis in their knees gave 2/3rds of them sham surgery, followed up with them for 24-months amazingly the placebo surgery worked as well as the real surgery.
- Two other studies found that placebo heart surgery was actually more effective than real heart surgery.
- An elaborate Harvard study placed a group of men for a week in a setting precisely designed and decorated to feel like it was from 22 years ago. Fascinatingly, the men started behaving and feeling a lot younger and aging biomarkers and blood tests revealed they were actually getting younger as a result of the setting.
- People who died of cancer that upon autopsy didn’t actually have cancer (better get a second opinion if you’re ever diagnosed with cancer!)
- Along with a bunch of other fantastic cases of people curing their own cancer or healing badly broken backs with specific healing meditation protocols. I wouldn’t blame you regarding this sort of thing as rank wuwu, but it works even in clinical environments under the watchful eyes of scientists and doctors.
If you don’t believe in the placebo effect and you drink socially, do an experiment; make your drinking buddies cocktails with no actual alcohol in them. You’ll find, as researchers have in studies with college students, that your drinking buddies get drunk and even experience hangovers.
Most people understand simply that the placebo effect is the power of belief in action. You believe that a pill will heal you so it does even though it’s an inert biologically inactive substance that shouldn’t do anything. But few will question why the placebo effect works and many will just accept some sort of unfalsifiable metaphysical explanation; it’s God rewarding our faith or us manifesting reality by tapping into some sort of hypothetical quantum consciousness that inexplicably changes real things in the real world. But you might wonder…
Is there a more grounded, scientific explanation for the placebo effect?
Yes, epigenetics. The placebo effect is a manifestation of epigenetic function.
You can thank the capacity of our genome to dynamically turn on and off the right genes at the right times for the healing power of belief. Billions of years of evolution have imbued our genes with a fantastic capacity to heal our bodies. Your body has a vast number of stem cells with the potential to become blood cells, brain cells, or immune cells. Belief and faith release neuropeptides from the brain which instructs stem cell genes what to transform into and what to do in the body.
So what does this mean for Biohackers?
Biohackers are accustomed to hearing this sentiment from their skeptical friends and family…
All these supplements and “wonder drugs” you’re into are “snake oil”, they only work because of the placebo effect!
To which the pragmatic biohacker should respond…
Maybe, but I don’t care. I only care that it works. I’d happily spend my money on a “placebo product” if it has the desired effect. If it actually makes me healthier it’s worth it.
And then you should point out the placebo-controlled studies done showing a given supplement or biohack outperforms placebo. However, if you delve a little further into these studies you’ll often find that the supplement barely outperforms a placebo. Often the placebo is half or 80% as effective as the supplement. What this reveals is that when you take a special supplement, almost any supplement 50% — 100% of the effect you are enjoying is due to the power of belief. Largely when you buy health supplements or the newest cool health device you’re investing in the power of belief.
You might now be thinking…
Great! So I don’t actually have to spend all this time and money on supplements and superfoods and all the other cool biohacking things offered online. I’ll just really believe and enjoy all the fantastic fruits of self-administered placebo effect!
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work quite like that. Belief and rationality are entangled, especially if you’re highly rational, and if you’re reading this sort of article you likely are. You need evidence to empower belief.
What often persuades you to try a health supplement is you hear from a friend, family member, or internet personality that a supplement has a fantastic life-changing effect. You’ll go research it, look up studies to understand its mechanism, and be convinced by the science you’ll try it.
The Placebo Effect is the Biohacker’s best friend
This is why, if you’re a highly rational type, you’ll get a bigger biological bang for your buck if you devote some time to researching and really understanding the health supplements that you take. Spending a few hours reading up on and learning about a supplement before taking it will empower the placebo effect to make it all the more effective.
But the placebo effect doesn’t always work, there are plenty of people who still die of cancer even though they pray endlessly and really believe that they’ll recover. Why is this?
Well, the placebo effect is a manifestation of epigenetic function. And our epigenetics doesn’t work perfectly which manifests as chronic disease, cognitive decline, mental illness, and ultimately, aging and death. The Sirtuins switching our genes on and off fundamentally rely on the NAD+ molecule.
The world’s top longevity scientists, like Harvard’s David Sinclair, recognize NAD+ as a game-changing anti-aging molecule. It unleashes the body’s fantastic capacity to fix itself, which makes it a powerful full-spectrum Nootropic and transformative medicine for addressing obesity, diabetes, and cognitive decline. The problem is, you can’t supplement NAD+ directly unless you want to inject it intravenously which costs about $600.
NMN (Nicotinamide Mononucleotide)
NMN is the Epigenetic Vitamin for Smarter Genes, a derivative of Vitamin B3 that feeds you the NAD+ molecule that your genome needs to epigenetically turn on (or off) the right genes at the right time.
- NMN is one step removed from NAD+, which it converts directly into.
- It’s a mitochondrial support supplement, that empowers the powerhouse of the cell.
- It’s a Nootropic, according to an NMN biohacker survey the majority of the users reported Nootropic effects (enhanced cognition, motivation and wakefulness) and Improved long term memory.
NMN means more NAD+, which means optimized epigenetic function, which means smarter genes, which means you can expect the placebo effect to multiply the benefits of everything you take or do to empower your health.