Free, Same Day Shipping (U.S. Only) | Our Breakaway Guarantee

Placebos and the Health Benefits of Matcha

By Eric Gower Jun 12, 2018

Placebos and the Health Benefits of Matcha

Conviction in a particular belief -- being confident -- is in all likelihood the oldest medicine known to man. This confidence in our belief, whatever it is, might be earned through many years of hard work, or it may be more spontaneous. Either way, confidence -- often obtained through a story we tell ourselves -- makes it more likely our body will respond favorably.

The "story" is the placebo, and the placebo is the story.

If you believe the story that a certain procedure can reduce blood pressure, the odds of it working go dramatically up. If you believe it's possible to relieve pain of any kind by taking a sugar pill, it's remarkable how efficacious sugar pills can be.

Placebos really do work, and they're real.

Can a placebo really just be a story someone tells us, and then we believe it? Or is it more of a story we tell ourselves? Either way, a placebo creates actual, in in molecular, change in the way our brains and our bodies work.

Placebos make our aching joints and bones feel better, make wine -- and matcha, perhaps? -- taste better, make various pharmaceutical therapies more effective, and even lift the fog of depression.

Try to imagine the following:

Fake knee surgery
Fake antidepressants
Fake pain relievers for lower back pain

Besides the word fake, what do these have in common?

They're all part of a rich medical dataset of studies focused on placebos.

Fake knee surgery, really? Yes. In a landmark study by Finnish researchers published in the New England Journal of Medicine, a fake surgical procedure, it turns out, is just as good as real surgery at reducing pain and other symptoms in some patients suffering from torn knee cartilage.

"Placebo painkillers can trigger the release of endorphins and endogenous opioids in the brain,” placebo expert Jo Marchant told Quartz. “These are the neurotransmitters that opiate drugs are designed to mimic. The placebo painkiller is working through the same biochemical pathways as the drug.”

Placebos are within a few percentage points of being as effective as antidepressants, with none of the side effects.

If you start to believe --and you need some conviction here -- that placebos are really incredible effective medicine, your odds are excellent that they indeed will indeed work.

But wouldn't knowing that you're taking a fake pill more or less cancel out whatever beneficial effect it might have? You'd think so! But no -- according to many different studies, it doesn't even matter if the user is cognizant that she's taking a placebo; it still works!

So how do you give yourself a placebo?

"Engaging in the ritual of healthy living — eating right, exercising, yoga, quality social time, meditating — probably provides some of the key ingredients of a placebo effect," says Ted Kaptchuk, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and one of the world's foremost authorities on placebos. "While these activities are positive interventions in their own right, the level of attention you give can enhance their benefits. The attention and emotional support you give yourself is often not something you can easily measure, but it can help you feel more comfortable in the world, and that can go a long way when it comes to healing."

What can we do to harness some of the power of the placebo? How do we best take care of ourselves?

All the obvious ways we all know work -- daily exercise, an excellent, whole-foods-based diet (not the grocery chain, actual whole raw foods), commitment to good sleeping habits, treating yourself to a yoga class or a massage, are all excellent places to start. “It may be that getting some kind of attention and care is telling your brain ‘I’m safe and I’m being looked after,’” writes Marchant.

So, is matcha a placebo? Yes, absolutely: if you think it's going to give you all the health benefits you've come to expect, then your odds of actually getting them go dramatically up. Is it still good for you, even though it can be considered a placebo? Of course! It still has all the essential optimum health properties, including like the plethora of antioxidants, catechins, flavonoids, amino acids, and polyphenols in every serving, each with its own published history in the medical journals. It's a blood-sugar stabilizer, anti inflammatory, probiotic that promotes healthy teeth and gums.

We've assembled a research database that is a good place to look for medical and scientific studies on the efficacy of green tea in general and matcha in particular. We built it because, to our knowledge, nothing like it exists on the internet, so it serves a very useful purpose.

The ritual of carefully and mindfully making a cup of matcha is soothing, and reassuring. It allows you to pause, to consciously know that you're doing something beneficial for yourself (and for your family, which needs you be at your healthiest). This itself is hugely valuable, according to all the placebo research.

You could do worse than imagining yourself getting more focused, more nourished, more immune. through a daily cup of matcha. You might actually become those things.   

Eric is the founder and chief matcha evangelist at Breakaway Matcha. He's also an author, ghostwriter, editor, cooking instructor, and private chef. For 16 years, he lived and worked in Japan, where he took deep dives into all things matcha, food, literature, arts, and culture. Eric is the author of three cookbooks: The Breakaway Cook, The breakaway Japanese Kitchen, and Eric's Kitchen. He lives and works in Marin County, CA.