This book is hits on a topic that affects me very personally. As someone with migraines and chronic pain, I am well aware of the inflence the mind has on the body. I also have a keen interest in the subject of alternative medicine – tempered by a healthy amount of skepticism. I’ve experienced benefits from some of the treatments discussed here firsthand, while others sound as crazy to me as they do to the average Jane. This blurb from the back cover is what made me pick it up:
“Cure represents a journey in the best sense of the word: a vivid, compassionate, generous exploration of the role of the human mind in both health and illness. Drawing on her training as a scientist and a science writer, Marchant meticulously investigates both promising and improbable theories of the mind’s ability to heal the body. The rest is to illuminate a fascinating approach to medicine, full of human detail, and, ultimately, hope.” – Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner’s Handbook
Jo Marchant, who has a PhD in genetics and medical microbiology, approaches her research on the mind-body connection from a skeptical perspective, and I found her reporting credible and her insights intriguing. The first thing to know about Cure is that it is not just an exporation of the “power of positive thinking” (which the subtitle implies). However, this idea is examined in the book and the science behind this cliche as it relates to health and wellness is surprising. Marchant explores the relationship between the mind and the body from a myriad of angles, including a discussion of the placebo effect, Eastern medicine, cutting edge research, New Age woo-woo stuff, and more day-to-day factors that have more to do with the person than the medicine. Cure is a well-written popular science book, and I recommend it especially to those who have a chronic illness, those who care for someone with chronic illness, and others just interested in the topic.
One of the things I liked most about Cure is that Jo Marchant brings you personal accounts from the real people involved in the studies she discusses (researchers and subjects). These interviews and Marchant’s own observations offer a human framework that is both engaging and affecting. Some testimonials were heartbreaking and others uplifting. I feel a kinship with these people – individuals with depression, chronic pain, IBS, heart disease, etc. There’s a universal cost to having a chronic illness: the fear that things will never get better, the loss of a social life, the loss of independence, the disappointment when the newest pill doesn’t work like you’d hoped. These are all crucial elements of long-term illness, and Marchant looks at the way these “side effects” influence both the mind and the body. The research suggests that one of the best things we can do to influence our medical condition is to believe that we can get better.
Note: Marchant is clear on the fact that optimism will not cure cancer or erase the underlying causes of a physiological condition. However, it appears possible to reduce the experience of certain symptoms through some of the methods discussed in this book, including a positive outlook. She is in favor of a medical approach that integrates what research tells us about the mind as well Western medicine. In fact,the most promising thing in here (in my view) is the research that supports using the mind’s influence to decrease the dosage of traditional drugs, and the terrible side effects they entail.
Jo Marchant’s reporting is compelling and the writing is exceptionally good. In the first chapter, she relates the research behind the widely accepted concept of the placebo effect. You’ve probably heard of it, but did you know that in certain situations/conditions a placebo pill produces a measurable neurological response? As in, your brain releases the same chemicals as it would if you took the actual pharmaceutical? I found this fascinating. She also investigates acupunture, biofeedback, and meditation. Several chapters are dedicated to things that most would not consider “treatment” at all, like the effect of spiritual beliefs and social connection on an ill person and the benefit that patients get from having face-to-face time with their medical provider.
After reading Cure, I have no doubt that our medical establishment can benefit from more exploration and integration of the mind-body connection. Of course, I believed this to start with. Still, I came across a lot of new information on alternative treatments and found the reading experience very enjoyable. Since most medical research is funded by pharmaceutical companies – and most of these treatments don’t involve pharmaceuticals – an upheaval in the world of medicine to embrace and explore this connection anytime soon is unlikely. However, with the education of doctors and patients about this topic and more studies like the ones recounted in Cure, I believe progress can be made in the way modern medicine – and people in general – think about the link between the mind and the body. One influences the other more than you think, for good or ill.
Acquired through: public library