LOS ALTOS, CA, February 28, 2013 ― Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of this column.
Fifty-two weeks, fifty columns (hey, a guy’s gotta have a break sometime) and a whole lot of eye-opening insights into the increasingly undeniable connection between consciousness and health.
Although I’m likely to be the only one doing any partying, I thought these insights alone were worthy of a little celebration. Which is why I’ve decided to pull together what I consider to be this past year’s top 10 headlines in mind-body medicine.
#1 Gratitude, compassion, forgiveness, and love are good for our health
Hardly a week goes by when I don’t come across some new study pointing to the fact that these and other moral sentiments are inextricably linked to our physical well-being. And it’s not just religious folks who are saying this but MD’s, PhD’s, and medical researchers around the world who are all coming to the same conclusion: Good thinking begets good health.
#2 Pre-diagnosis is bad for our health
I have Reuters health editor, Dr. Ivan Oransky, to thank for my favorite headline of the year: “Preponderance of preconditions is perfectly preposterous.” This is how he characterizes the increasing rush to label people with one medical condition or another – even if it’s a pre-condition. “As if actual diseases weren’t frightening enough,” writes The Atlantic’s Brian Fung, we now have what seems like a whole encyclopedia of pre-diseases to fear.” The operative word here is “fear,” something that I’m sure everyone agrees – and research shows – is the very last thing you want to have roaming around your head.
#3 Drugs aren’t the only option for health
This was my takeaway from a conversation I had with Dr. Sanford Newmark, head of the pediatric integrative neurodevelopmental program at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine and author of ADHD Without Drugs: A Guide to the Natural Care of Children with ADHD. “ADHD is significantly overdiagnosed. And for those who do have the condition, medications aren’t always the best or only option.” His recommendation? Among other things, both doctors and parents should consider the message that’s being delivered to the child. “Every word one says to a patient influences their healing potential.”
#4 Our beliefs about the hereafter can be felt here and now
Dr. Eben Alexander’s near-death realization that he was loved, that he had nothing to fear, and that there was nothing he could do wrong eventually led to his remarkable recovery after seven days in a coma. “[This] message flooded me with a vast and crazy sensation of relief,” he wrote in an article for The Daily Beast. Could it be that it was this change of thought that precipitated such a remarkable change in his physical condition?
#5 We are not defined by our genes
Contrary to popular belief, our genes aren’t the be-all and end-all of our being. According to Dr. Sean Mackey, head of Stanford University’s Division of Pain Management, “There is growing awareness and data that supports that there is a direct connection between mind and body and that our thoughts, our feelings, our emotions can shape gene expression and shape the substances that are produced.” There’s also evidence to suggest that a positive shift in thinking benefits not only ourselves but our offspring as well – the proverbial gift that keeps on giving.
#6 Spirituality can make you happy, healthy, and whole
Sure, there’s plenty of research indicating a positive correlation between religious and spiritual practices and better health. But there’s nothing like personal experience to convert an abstract idea into a practical reality. Such was the case with a good friend of mine who decided that prayer was the only to go to treat a broken neck. Doctors had predicted that she’d be immobilized for an extended period of time. Within a month, however – and without any further medical intervention – she was jogging.
# 7 What works for one doesn’t work for everyone
It’s not hard to find 9 out of 10 doctors who would recommend this or that for their patients. Problem is, this or that is not likely to have the same effect on anything close to 9 out of 10 patients. Case in point: The British Medical Journal did an analysis of common medical treatments – about 2,500 in all – to figure out just how beneficial they were. Conclusion? Thirteen percent were found to be beneficial; twenty-three percent were likely to be beneficial; eight percent were as likely to be harmful as beneficial; six percent were unlikely to be beneficial, and four percent were likely to be harmful or ineffective. In other words, when you go to the hospital there’s only a thirty-six percent chance that you’ll receive treatment that has proven to be either beneficial or likely to be beneficial. How is this explained? See #8.
# 8 Placebos continue to be the proverbial elephant in the patient’s room
Irving Kirsch, associate director of the Program in Placebo Studies at Harvard, rocked the medical world last year when he declared that in most cases antidepressants are no more effective than placebos – those pharmacologically inert “dummy pills” given to patients who think they’re getting the real McCoy. This is not to say that people who take these drugs aren’t getting better. They are. But according to Dr. Kirsch, “it’s not the chemical ingredients of the drug that are making them better” but an expectation of healing so powerful that it alleviates all but the most severe symptoms of depression – a phenomenon that extends beyond just pills to include other medical procedures as well. Maybe the key to more effective and consistent treatment, then, is not a better understanding of a patient’s body but their thoughts.
# 9 Miracles may not be so miraculous after all
I suppose it’s tempting to think of “miracles” as some inexplicable, even supernatural event. But what if everything we call a “miracle” isn’t so “miraculous” after all? What if it’s simply a misunderstood phenomena waiting for an explanation? What if what we now think of as impossible and supernatural suddenly became possible and completely natural – for everyone? Before you answer, I encourage you to read this column I wrote about a good friend of mine who regained consciousness after six months in a coma and chose an exclusively thought-based approach to recovering from a debilitating disease.
#10 The future of mind-body medicine depends on us
This was the message I heard loud and clear over dinner with three members of the faculty of San Francisco-based Saybrook University, the only institution in the United States offering advanced degrees in mind-body medicine. Asked what it’s going to take for mind-body medicine to gain a credible foothold in a society steeped in conventional medicine, Dr. Eric Willmarth replied, “It’s going to come from more of the grassroots demand from the patients.” I can only assume that this collective demand will be driven by an individual willingness to adopt a more inspired, more thought-based view of health.
What will the headlines be in the next 12 months? Stay tuned.
Eric Nelson is a Christian Science practitioner, whose articles on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local, regional, and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California.
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