Placebo effect and meditation: is there a link?

For last few decades, the western world paying attention to meditation and religious practices from the east. Mainly they are using mindfulness and related meditation techniques to tackle number of problems such as relieve chronic pain, reduce stress, increase productivity of workers, cure mental disorders, etc.

This drawn attention of scientists to develop methods to cure number of mental disorders and health problems. As a result thousands of research have been carried out and most of them showed positive results.

Researchers have been known about placebo effect for a long time, and number of research had already been carried out to find out about placebo effet.

A comparative study shows some overlaps in brain activity related to meditation and placebos.
Acta Neuropsychiatrica 2010: 22: 104–117

Of cause, meditation is not just believing about a treatment, but a practice which give rise to number of qualities and physical changes of the body.
Mindfulness Meditation is found to be useful in number of therapiesand treatments.

Mindfulness meditation has been reported to produce positive effects on psychological well-being that extend beyond the time the individual is formally meditating. Over the last three decades mindfulness meditation practices have been increasingly incorporated into psychotherapeutic programs, to take advantage of these benefits (cf. Baer, 2003; Grossman et al., 2004). A large body of research has established the efficacy of these mindfulness-based interventions in reducing symptoms of a number of disorders, including anxiety (Roemer et al., 2008), depression (Teasdale et al., 2000), substance abuse (Bowen et al., 2006), eating disorders (Tapper et al., 2009), and chronic pain (Grossman et al., 2007), as well as improving well-being and quality of life (e.g., Carmody and Baer, 2008).

Placebo effect: a beneficial effect produced by a placebo drug or treatment, which cannot be attributed to the properties of the placebo itself, and must therefore be due to the patient’s belief in that treatment.
A placebo is a medical treatment or procedure designed to deceive the participant of a clinical experiment. It does not contain any active ingredients but often still produces a physical effect on the individual.

Placebos also found to be have positive effects on disorders and diseases, and therefore, a drug is only approved when it produces a greater effect than a placebo (Reference).

Could there be any link between pacebo effect and meditation?
Could it be possible to enhance immunity and defense against diseases through meditation?


It’s a great question. Meditation instructions involve changing perception, attention, views, and so on so definitely different problem then sugar pill vs a drug. One way to investigate might be to provide one group with just instructions and another with the same instructions but also talk about likely benefits or outcomes thereby setting up expectations for that group.
Hypnotic induction techniques are often used particularly by lay meditation teachers but this is a somewhat different issue.


The orthodox medical definition of placebo affect is a bit negative and non-prescribable:

‘orthodox doctors dismiss the positive results as a result of the placebo effect’

Yet medicine grudgingly allows that 1 in 3 patients is influenced by the placebo effect. Some doctors do advocate for meditation as a researchable treatment…which would, amusingly, make it a non-placebo. :thinking:

The Buddha himself taught about faith and verification, encouraging the development of the former by the latter:

But this teaching is visible in this very life, immediately effective, inviting inspection, relevant, so that sensible people can know it for themselves.”

In terms of immunity and defense against disease, medicine definitely acknowledges the link between stress and disease. Since suffering is stressful, it is therefore linked to disease. And since the Buddha prescribes the Noble Eightfold Path as a remedy for suffering, we would know that for those who practice Right Immersion:

They understand: ‘Here there is no stress due to the defilements of sensuality, desire to be reborn, or ignorance. There is only this modicum of stress, namely that associated with the six sense fields dependent on this body and conditioned by life.’ –MN121

In the end we all die. Medicine cannot cure that.