Jo Marchant is an award-winning science journalist, with a PhD in genetics and medical microbiology. In her rigorously reported new book, "Cure: A Journey Into the Science of Mind Over Body," Marchant explores the fascinating research into the mind-body connection, including its ability to help us heal.
Harnessing the healing power of the mind doesn’t mean simply thinking the pain away. We can’t wish ourselves better, however much we might want that to be true.
But by harnessing pathways such as expectation, distraction, and social support we can persuade our bodies to ease off on symptoms such as pain, depression, and fatigue, as well as influence physiological functions such as the gut and immune system.
As a science journalist, I decided to cover this topic in depth in my new book, Cure. To give you an idea of what I discovered, here are 10 scientific findings that show how the mind can help the body:
1. Researchers have found that being immersed in a virtual reality world can cut pain in burn patients by 15 to 40 percent, in addition to the pain relief they get from drugs.
2. Hypnotherapy helps 70 to 80 percent of patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) for whom all other treatments have failed. When hypnotized, people can influence the speed of gut contractions, a process not usually under conscious control.
3. In trials of more than 700 patients undergoing invasive medical procedures such as biopsies and tumor removal, those treated with empathy and positive suggestion had less pain and anxiety, needed lower levels of sedative drugs, and suffered fewer complications.
4. Trials of 15,000 women in 16 countries found that those supported by the same midwife throughout childbirth were less likely to need pain relief or surgical intervention and had shorter labors and healthier babies.
5. In a study of 150 patients with terminal lung cancer, those offered the opportunity to talk to a palliative care specialist had better quality of life, were less depressed — and lived longer.
6. Attending an eight-week mindfulness course halves the relapse rate in patients with recurrent major depression.
7. In a trial of 121 patients with multiple sclerosis, those who took a stress management course had fewer new brain lesions (a marker of disease progression) than controls.
8. Volunteers who attended a three-month meditation retreat subsequently had higher levels of telomerase, an enzyme that protects against — and can perhaps even reverse — cellular aging.
9. Married cancer patients are 20 percent less likely to die from their disease than those who are single, even after controlling for the practical advantages of having a spouse.
10. Elderly volunteers who spent 15 hours a week helping schoolchildren to read were more active, had stronger legs, and did better on cognitive tests than controls. The intervention also reversed age-related decline in their brains.