One of my little sweeties is sick today – with some weird summer sickness that’s causing a 102 fever. While I was pouring her some orange juice this morning, I chose a special glass with stars on it for her that I knew would make her smile and feel loved, instead of just picking the same old glass as usual. When I handed it to her she said, “Ooo! A star cup! Thank you, mommy!” then closed her eyes and sighed with joy. The thought immediately popped into my mind: Love is the best placebo…but is it really a placebo?

Last summer I listened to a fascinating (as usual) Radio Lab podcast called “Placebo" that talked about the facts and myths surrounding "the placebo affect." (If you’ve never listened to Radio Lab, please go their website immediately after reading this post and listen to the first thing you see.)

In the first segment, they discussed how a parent kissing a child’s boo-boo is the very first placebo most humans ever encounter, but that technically it is not a placebo given what happens when people touch. I remember learning in my birth doula clinical training that the oxytocin levels in a mother and child who are skin-to-skin are more reparative than any man-made antidepressant.

So now I am sitting on my couch reading books with my little sick girl, holding her tight (despite the horribly high temperatures in Philadelphia AND her body), giving her lots of kisses because I know it’s the best medicine I can offer her right now.


This also makes me re-ponder the long time question: if a “placebo” actually works, can we call it a placebo? One of my friends always makes fun of me for taking Melatonin every night before bed to help with my insomnia, saying it’s a waste of money and hope. But since I started taking it, I sleep much better. Is it biological? Psychological? Wishful-thinking? To be honest, I don’t even care because I’m a holistic being for whom Melatonin works.

So next time you’re sick, have a headache, can’t sleep – what will you do that works? And to what degree does it bother or encourage you that it’s not traditional medicine?