Science journalist Jo Marchant (PhD in genetics and medical microbiology) has just released Cure: A Journey Into the Science of Mind Over Body, a much-needed look into the real science of how one’s mind can and does affect one’s physiology. Often disregarded as immeasurable and unscientific, the connection between the mind and body has had a hard time penetrating the skeptical walls of those wholly reliant on the modern scientific method. Marchant, however, eloquently makes a compelling case for not only its inclusion in serious scientific research but also the naivety of those who place problems in only one of two categories: mental (see a psychiatrist) and physical (see an MD), arguing that these should be bridged in order to further the scientific medical community. One need not be an academic or medical scholar to read this text—see the plethora of footnotes for that kind of information—but the information is not so dumbed down that those of that ilk will be disappointed; there’s plenty here for everyone.
The case studies found in Cure are beyond intriguing—what we’ve discovered about placebos alone may stretch the reader’s mind beyond its level of comfort. We know so little about the mind, but the more we study it the more we see just how great its influence is on the body, whether through intentional or unintentional means, consciously or subconsciously. Marchant does not believe in anything spiritual, but she does not deny the influence certain behaviors and beliefs have on the mind and, therefore, the body, which should be of interest to believers and nonbelievers alike.
I’ve found that Marchant’s approach may be equally as helpful for those who place their faith in the modern scientific method as for those who place it elsewhere. As a Christian whose faith is in God but who also sees the benefit of the Enlightenment period and birth of modern science but also sees its limitations, I found myself saying, “Well, duh,” a few times, but also, “Whoa! What?!” I have to admit, after reading through the first three chapters I was ready to write to a few people and say, “Get this book now.” The information on placebos alone (specifically in relation to Lupus) has given me a whole new hope for some people. The applications of the information found in this text are virtually limitless.
One experiment made participants aware from the start that they were taking placebos—they were all taking placebos—but it still improved their situation simply by tricking the brain. Granted, much of what we’re talking about is purely addressing symptoms, but often times relieving those can allow the real problem to surface and heal. And, of course, without proper physical treatment tricking the mind into thinking the body is okay will simply cause it to die due to ignoring the real issue—thinking your blood has enough oxygen and actually having enough are two very different things!
This isn’t a “how to” book, but it is informative and should raise awareness as Marchant intends. She writes in her conclusion, “My hope, then, is that this book might help to overcome some of the prejudice against mind-body approaches, and to raise awareness that taking account of the mind in health is actually a more scientific and evidence-based approach than relying ever more heavily on physical interventions and drugs” (254). I hope so, too.
*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.