In 6 Stories To Make You Believe In The Power Of Your Mind To Heal You, I shared with you evidence that the mind’s thoughts, beliefs, and feelings can heal—or harm—the body. The response to this post was so enthusiastic that I felt inspired to share more stories with you. The more verifiable scientific evidence you collect for your skeptical mind, the more you will prove to yourself that the mind really can heal the body.
1. Hope heals
As described by Dr. Bernie Siegel in Love, Medicine & Miracles, a chemotherapy regimen called “EPOH” was being studied in a research protocol for efficacy. Most of the study centers were reporting consistent results—some benefit from the chemotherapy, but nothing earth-shattering. But one study center was getting dramatically better results, so the research team investigated. What were they doing differently?
Turns out the doctor in the center with better results had renamed the chemotherapy regimen. Instead of telling his patients they were getting EPOH, he rearranged the letters and dosed them with HOPE.
2. Fake surgery heals knees
In an article in The New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Bruce Moseley, an orthopedic surgeon renowned for the knee surgeries he performed on people with debilitating knee pain, reported about a brilliant study he designed to prove that his signature knee surgery was more effective than others.
The patients in one group of the study got Dr. Moseley’s famous surgery. The other group of patients underwent an elaborately crafted sham surgery, during which the patient was sedated, three incisions were made in the same location as those getting the real surgery, and the patient was shown a prerecorded tape of someone else’s surgery on the video monitor. Dr. Moseley even splashed water around to mimic the sound of the lavage procedure. Then he sewed the knee back up without actually doing anything.
As expected, one third of the patients getting the real surgery experienced resolution of their knee pain. But what really shocked the researchers was that those getting the sham surgery had the same result! In fact, at one point in the study, those getting the sham surgery were actually having less knee pain than those getting the real surgery, probably because they didn’t undergo the trauma of the surgery.
What did Dr. Moseley’s patients think about the study results? As one World War II veteran who benefited from Dr. Moseley’s placebo knee surgery said, “The surgery was two years ago and the knee has never bothered me since. It’s just like my other knee now.”
3. Fake surgery heals chest pain
In the past, ligation of the internal mammary artery in the chest was considered standard treatment for angina. The thought was that, if you blocked blood flow through the internal mammary artery in the chest, you’d shunt more blood to the heart and relieve the symptoms people experience when they’re not getting enough coronary blood flow. Surgeons performed this procedure for decades, and almost all of the patients experienced improvement in their symptoms. But were they really responding to the ligation of the internal mammary artery? Or were their bodies responding to the belief that the surgery would be helpful?
On a quest to find out the answer, one study compared angina patients who got their internal mammary arteries ligated with patients who underwent a surgical procedure during which an incision was made on the chest wall, but the artery itself was not ligated. What happened? 71% of those subjected to the sham surgery got better, whereas only 67% of those who got the real surgery improved.
4. What you believe affects your life expectancy
Researchers in San Diego examined the death records of almost 30,000 Chinese-Americans and compared them to over 400,000 randomly selected white people. What they found was that Chinese-Americans, but not whites, die significantly earlier than normal (by as much as 5 years) if they have a combination of disease and birth year which Chinese astrology and Chinese medicine consider ill-fated.
The researchers found that the more strongly the Chinese-Americans attached to traditional Chinese traditions, the earlier they died. When they examined the data, they concluded that the reduction in life expectancy could not be explained by genetic factors, the lifestyle choices or behavior of the patient, the skill of the doctor, or any other variable.
Why did the Chinese-Americans die younger? The researchers concluded that they die younger not because they have Chinese genes, but because they have Chinese beliefs. They believe they will die younger because the stars have hexed them. And their negative belief manifests as a shorter life.
5. Generosity is potent medicine
After 9 heart surgeries, Andy Mackie’s doctors had him on 15 medications, but the side effects made him miserable. So he decided to stop all his medications and spend his remaining days feeling as good as he could. His doctors said he would die within a year, so Andy decided to do something he had always wanted to do. He decided to use the money he would have spent on his heart medicines to buy 300 harmonicas for children, with lessons. And when he didn’t die the next month, he bought a few hundred more. Thirteen years and 20,000 harmonicas later, Andy Mackie finally passed away.
6. The mind affects hair growth
Thirty percent of patients who thought they were getting chemotherapy but were actually getting nothing but saline lost their hair. And bald men in the Rogaine trials who were getting nothing but sugar pills grew hair. Go figure.
Still Not Convinced? I have zero attachment to converting skeptics of mind-body medicine into believers. I’m just a curious scientist who can’t ignore the evidence that the mind is more powerful that we yet understand. If you’re curious like me, read more evidence of the mind’s power to heal the body in Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself or watch my Public Television special Heal Yourself: Mind Over Medicine (watch the trailer and check listings here.
What do you believe about the mind’s ability to heal the body?