IF WHAT WE EAT CAN NOURISH OUR BODY, WHAT WE THINK CAN NOURISH OUR MIND. Mind-body medicine focuses on the powerful ways in which emotional, mental, spiritual, and behavioral factors can directly affect our health.

The concept that the mind is important in healing disease is not a "new age" idea. In fact, it may be considered traditional medicine because it has been around for more than 2,000 years in Greek, Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. The Greek physician Hippocrates, considered the "father of medicine," recognized the moral and spiritual aspects of healing, and believed that treatment could occur only with consideration of attitude, environmental influences, and natural remedies. While this integrated approach was maintained in traditional healing systems in the East, developments in the Western world by the 16th and 17th centuries led to a separation of human spiritual and emotional dimensions from the physical body.

During the Enlightenment era, a Reductionist perspective became popular in which the human body was regarded as a machine like a clock. Because the emphasis was on the mechanical, anything that could not be seen and quantified was considered not to exist. These early scientists saw no physical proof of the connection between the spiritual and emotional dimensions and the physical body. The separation of mind from matter and body was complete...for a time.

The Placebo Effect

During World War II, the importance of belief reentered the concept of health care. On the beaches of Anzio in Italy, morphine for the wounded soldiers was in short supply, and Henry Beecher, M.D., discovered that much of the pain could be controlled by saline injections. He injected the soldiers with what they thought was morphine, but it was just salt water. Nevertheless, the soldiers felt their pain decrease. Dr. Beecher coined the term "placebo effect," and his subsequent research demonstrated that up to 35 percent of a therapeutic response to any medical treatment could be the result of belief alone.

The placebo effect has been denigrated by some doctors as of little importance. But, I see it as just the opposite. If the placebo is just a prop that allows the mind to control what the body is feeling and doing, then the mind is the medicine. I have always believed in the power of the mind and what it can do. The mind controls our body systems. We do not have to think about making our heart beat, or breathing, or having our billions of cells perform the varied functions that keep us alive. These activities happen by themselves. But many are still controlled and coordinated by parts of our mind. Just because these activities go on without our conscious thought does not mean that they are independent of our control. For example, I believe that the subconscious can affect our body processes for good or bad. I also believe that this type of control is part of what makes us human, but that most of us have forgotten how to use this important ability.


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