Medical treatments can be both miraculous and a curse. We’ve all marveled at commercials where a drug’s side effects seem worse than the ailment. I had a graphic experience last week. My doctor proposed shooting dye up my arm as part of an examination. Unfortunately, the dye could cause nausea, break me out in hives, and/ or throw me into anaphylactic shock. I consented to the test, got a clean bill of health but left the office convinced that the best way to remain healthy is to stay away from doctors.
Okay, I’m writing a little tongue-in-cheek. I have friends who have endured the cruel and unjust punishment of chemotherapy and gone on to live happy, healthy lives. Because of their experiences, I make a grudging bow to medicine. Nonetheless, a growing body of evidence suggests we have healing powers within ourselves that can called upon.
In a recent blog, I wrote about the placebo effect. (Blog 3/11/16) There are times when the mind can be tricked into wellness even when it knows the medicine prescribed is a sugar pills. What we’ve learned, recently, is that the immune system can be influenced by the same trickery. In both instances, what matters is our expectation. (“Healing with drugs,” by Jo Merchant, excerpted from Mosaicscience.com in The Week, March 11, 2016, pgs. 36-37.) Like Ivan Pavlov’s dogs that were taught to salivate on the anticipation of food, rather than the food itself, (1890) we can reduce our reliance on drugs if we convince ourselves that half the amount will have the same curative effect as a full dose. When we do, our immune system kicks in, with the result that we experience reduced side effects.
To make these placebo treatments reliable, more study is required. Unfortunately, the drug industry has stepped in with an objection to this line of research. (Ibid pg. 37) Nonetheless, the evidence is in. The human mind and the immune system have impressive powers to heal.