© Stock photos/Glowimages – models used for illustrative purpose
© Stock photos/Glowimages – models used for illustrative purpose

World Health Day: Time to shine a light on amazing scientific breakthroughs

There’ll be a functional cure for AIDs; your brain waves will be able to be manipulated to jog memory or scratch bad recollections; and, bandages will indicate how healing is progressing. These are just three of the many amazing medical breakthroughs that could become reality within the next 10-20 years, according to a recent Brisbane Times report on groundbreaking Melbourne-based research.

While these innovations focus very much on a biomedical approach to treating disease, there are another group of international researchers who are finding equally amazing results through the use of placebos. These treatments are often dispensed as inert sugar pills or ‘pretend operations’ whereby a patient’s belief in their efficacy and/or the authority of the dispensing doctor, results in improvement or healing.

Did you know that the placebo effect can produce higher test scores? Or that simply picking up a bottle of pills (and putting them straight back down again) can effect healing?

Have you considered that it could be the mother’s oft repeated “let mummy kiss it better” that triggers the same pain-reducing placebo effect?

Such effects are not insignificant and now have far-reaching implications for the treatment of many conditions. Surprisingly, “The best known mechanisms underlying the placebo effect have been illustrated for pain and Parkinson’s disease”, write leading placebo researchers, Pollo, Carlino and Benedetti. These and researchers doing similar work tell us that they’re experiencing consistent results in Parkinson’s patients with placebo-induced motor improvement, giving credibility to using placebo studies to identify how thought can have an effect on health similar to that of drugs.

World Parkinson’s Day, aimed at public awareness of the disease and advances in its treatment, is being observed this week on the 11 April. A cure, dearly desired by so many, may lie in the mind and outside the realm of the biophysical.

Delving further into the importance of placebo research, 97% of GPs participating in a recent trial in the UK were found to have prescribed placebos, at some time.

It’s now well-known that placebos are effective for lowering heart rate and the respiratory centres - acting just like a drug and a little bit like that warm hug from mum. Noteworthy indeed, as we observe the other major health event this week, World Health Day, focussing this year on high blood pressure which affects one in three adults worldwide.

Placebo research on the effects of our thoughts on our bodies is leading many medical investigators to ask another question. If our thoughts can affect our health, what sorts of thoughts can not only affect a cure, but promote consistent good health?

Who hasn’t found that kindness and charity make us happy; that a gentle response disarms conflicts such as road rage; that when we forgive we benefit by peace of mind and body? Conversely, I’m fairly certain that I’m not alone in having felt the stress from telling a lie.
“If you heard that research had demonstrated a factor which could lower your blood pressure, help you recover from surgery, provide a greater sense of well-being, add years to your life and help protect your children from drug abuse, alcohol abuse or suicide, would you be interested in discovering what it might be?” (Larson & Larson, 1994).

Donald Moss, author of The Circle of the Soul: The Role of Spirituality in Health Care writes that today there is an empirical science of the soul, and a growing body of methodologically guided research on the positive health benefits of spiritual behaviours that include compassion, forgiveness, prayer, gratitude and love.

For instance, some complementary and alternative therapies, including mindfulness, now emphasise letting go of a narrow personal perspective and opening our minds to a less material and more all-embracing viewpoint, just as the Hebrew Psalmist advised us to “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Today I had an experience that illustrates the upshot of ‘letting go’.

I put my mobile phone down. Once again I felt like I’d been smacked in the face by yet another customer ‘support’ officer bound by red tape and unwilling to help. Sometimes, I’ve become angry, resentful and busy planning some sort of self-justified and well thought-out retort via a letter to the manager. This time though, I consciously decided not to react and just ‘let go’, knowing that all would be well. Ten minutes later the phone rang and it was the guy from the company apologising, saying that they’d made a mistake and would supply the faulty part at no cost.

It was a moment of awe when I realised what had made the difference this time.

Some scientists are no longer ‘put off’ from investigating fully the health benefits of a spiritual viewpoint by Freud-inspired ridicule of religious and spiritual individuals, portraying them as superstitious and too weak to face reality.

On the contrary, the most amazing health research breakthroughs are leading to a better understanding of ourselves as much more than just a body.

The realisation of the mental nature of health is beginning to enable us to gain even more than many health experts worldwide thought possible - a measure of mastery over the body.

Kay Stroud speaks from experience in the mind-body field, especially as it relates to spirituality and health. Her work is regularly published in regional and national newspapers and online publications. She also represents Christian Science to media and government in Northern Australia. Read more at www.qldhealthblog.com

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