Many people have heard about the placebo effect. Less people have heard about the nocebo effect.

An entertaining overview of the placebo effect is in the video below. 

The nocebo effect is conceptually the same. It’s the other edge of the placebo’s sword. When the effect is positive, it’s the placebo effect. If it’s negative, it’s the nocebo effect.

I think the placebo and nocebo effects are fascinating, and highlight the relationship between how we think (in particular our expectations about things) and how this can influence our physiology and behaviour. 

This is all well established. But here is where I get completely speculative. 

I’ve discussed diet a little in the past. In short, I’ve been learning about what I should and shouldn’t be eating lately.

This research has influenced my behaviour. I eat and drink healthier food than I did before. This is a function of having a better understanding of what I should and shouldn’t be eating.

But this research has also impacted me in another way. I’ve been beating myself up a little. Because I have deeply entrenched habits. And I’ve acquired tastes over my lifetime. And I have limited will power. So I still eat and drink a lot of things that I shouldn’t really eat, or should at least eat in greater moderation. Like soft drinks and energy drinks. And fast food high in saturated and trans fats. And sweets that are highly processed and full of sugar. I’m getting better, but I can’t change a lifetime of behaviours and habits overnight. 

It makes me wonder. Could the nocebo effect be having an impact on me? 

Now that I have a decent understanding of the link between these types of food and drink and adverse long-term health outcomes, could I be suffering a nocebo effect? Could my physiological response to these foods be larger than it previously would have been?  

This is pure speculation. And I’m not sure there’s a practical takeaway, because I don’t think ignorance is a solution. Ultimately, it makes me even more motivated to improve my diet. 

Sonnie Bailey

Sonnie is an Authorised Financial Adviser (AFA) and former lawyer with experience in the financial services and trustee industries. Sonnie operates Fairhaven Wealth (www.fairhavenwealth.co.nz).