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How thought influences your health

From the February 2004 issue of The Christian Science Journal

GOD AND HEALTH. A lot of people are thinking about the connection. It even made the cover of Newsweek last November, with several pages devoted to the efforts of medical researchers to scientifically validate the effect of prayer on health. I've followed stories on spirituality and health for a couple of decades, and what stood out most to me in this Newsweek article was the sheer staying power of this investigation. The researchers are breaching the traditional walls that separate thought and spirituality from scientific medicine.

For the better part of the last century modern medicine has defined itself as independent of, and even separate from, the influence of thought on the body. For instance, before a drug can be marketed it must be tested to ensure that it is distinctly separate from the placebo effect. This effect is an improvement in health that is produced by the patient's mental response to treatment that actually has no healing efficacy. The classic "sugar pills" are an example. Everyone in the test group is told that they are being given a new drug; however, half are given a placebo to test the power of belief on the body. If the drug produces more improvement than the percentage cured by the placebo effect, it is considered scientific medicine. The effect of thought on the body, although acknowledged, is generally considered research "noise" or a "pest" to be filtered out, not investigated.

But that is changing. The relationship between thought and body is being investigated, and it is showing that a shift in thought produces specific physiological changes in the body. Because the term placebo has been thought of in such a negative way, including anything mental or spiritual, many researchers refer to their work as mind/body medicine. They are asking and researching powerful questions. Like, How does thought translate itself into physical change? What is actually being treated and what is the treatment? Does the doctor's thought have an effect on the health of the patient? What role does the patient have in his or her health care? And why is modern medicine so heavily oriented toward disease? When five out of fifteen people get the flu, why, they ask, have we been studying the five and not the ten who remained healthy? These questions are so fundamental that they have the power to change the foundations of modern health care.

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