Book Review: Cure
A Journey into the Science of Mind over Body
By Jo Marchant
Crown Publishing Group
My friend fishes the bottle out of her purse and I eagerly take her up on her offer, putting 10 drops of grapefruit seed extract into my water. Whether it will cure my sore throat or not, I don’t know, but there’s another important dynamic occurring: Could my belief that I’m going to feel better in itself heal me? It’s a fascinating question, and one that British author Jo Marchant takes on with aplomb in her new book, Cure. Marchant is well qualified to write about medical research; she has a PhD in genetics and microbiology, and is a respected journalist whose work regularly appears in New Scientist.
For a long time, the idea that the mind can heal the body has been dismissed by scientists, relegated to the land of Woo-Woo. But scientists have misgauged the placebo effect, points out Marchant. It’s not about the fake pill; it’s about the meaning that is attached to it. New research is revealing the close interaction between our brains and our immune systems, and how this power can be harnessed to heal the body in profound ways. In researching her book, Marchant meets doctors who are using meditation to ease depression, migraines, and irritable bowel syndrome. She meets patients who are training their immune systems to react to a placebo so their medication dosages can be cut in half. She finds war vets employing virtual reality to soothe the agony of burns. Marchant even volunteers at Lourdes, the site of many miraculous healings, to investigate the role of spirituality in recovery.
Her conclusion? Our brains control the tools our bodies have available—from hormones and natural painkillers to the weapons of the immune system—to ease symptoms and fight disease. Our perception of our environment changes how our brain can allocate these resources, and that, she finds, is powerful indeed.