Jo Marchant (2016)
“AS INDIVIDUALS, rather than putting our faith in mystical rituals and practices, the science described in this book shows that in many situations, we have the capacity to influence our own health by harnessing the power of the (conscious and unconscious) mind.”
Wow! This is the exact type of nonfiction I love to read and learn from. God, I hope the change of western medicine speeds along – healthily, of course. And I hope more scientifically-literate Baby-boomers spend their money in ways that support the paradigm shift. Sadly, I foresee more stubbornly-minded and change-resistant doctors continuing to move overseas to less developed countries (like Colombia), solidifying and spreading their prejudices and myths. Despite my concern over our growing healthcare costs as a percentage of GDP or the lowering birth rate, the lack of scientific education in the U.S. continues to worry me most…
I’ll start with providing some key quotes about the placebo effects, and must not forget the power of the “nocebo” effect, which likely accounts for most side-effects from typical prescription drugs.
“This result illustrates two important points about the limitations of the placebo effect. The first is that any effects caused by belief in a treatment are limited to the natural tools that the body has available. Breathing fake oxygen can cause the brain to respond as if there is more oxygen in the air, but it cannot increase the underlying level of oxygen within the blood.” [Emphasis added]
“The second point, which is becoming clear from a range of placebo studies, is that effects mediated by expectation tend to be limited to symptoms—things that we are consciously aware of, such as pain, itching, rashes or diarrhea, as well as cognitive function, sleep and the effects of drugs such as caffeine and alcohol.” [Emphasis added]
“Placebos, then, are very good at influencing how we feel. But there’s little evidence that they affect measures we’re not consciously aware of, such as cholesterol or blood sugar levels, and they don’t seem to address the underlying processes or causes of disease. Bonnie Anderson’s fake surgery banished her pain and disability, but it probably didn’t mend her spine.”
“Harnessing conditioned responses to replace drugs with placebos is called Placebo Controlled Dose Reduction (PCDR), and in addition to reducing side effects, it could save billions of dollars in health care costs (in 2007, ADHD drugs in the U.S. alone were estimated to cost $5.3 billion).”
The “central governor” topic was fascinating to me. This is the idea (not yet proved) that a region of the brain governs, based on external and internal status, how much effort we can physically expend in a normal situation like a gym or climbing a mountain, and how much of our body/energy is “reserved” for a true emergency, like a friend being pinned under a weight or an advancing avalanche. We think and feel like as we work harder in these situations like we’re using more and more of our energy, more and more of our muscles to do the work,
But Noakes found the reverse. As the cyclists neared exhaustion, muscle fibers were being switched off. At the point at which his volunteers said they felt too fatigued to continue, they were never activating more than about 50% of their available muscle fibers. Exhaustion forced them to stop exercising, yet they had a large reserve of muscle just waiting to be used. [Emphasis added]
Altitude, hot weather, and being sick make “the effect even more pronounced.” Noakes argues that this hypothesis might also be the reason why interval training is so effective: it teaches the brain that going to 100% — or at least what the brain allows as 100% — is OK, and it’s fine to increase that limit a little more in the future. This is also good hypothesis for extreme, clinical fatigue, which she discusses: a malfunction in this central governor region.
The section on hypnotherapy surprised me, because I’d never heard of real research on it, yet the evidence presented for reliving IBS symptoms seems very strong. And sadly…likely little to nothing will come of this in the near future. The principle researcher in this field sounds like he’s given up:
““We have produced a lot of good research, incontrovertible research. Yet we’re always fighting the people who fund treatment. They’re always saying there’s not enough evidence. How much more evidence do they want?”” (Whorwell)
And that hints at the general reason many of the therapies discussed in this book, from placebo pills to hypnotherapy, will advance far slower than is warranted:
“Stanford hypnosis researcher David Spiegel suggests that part of the reason for the lack of enthusiasm is economic. Pain relief is a billiondollar market, and drug companies have no incentive to fund trials that would reduce patients’ dependence on their products, he points out. And neither have medical insurers, because if medical costs come down, so do their profits. The trouble with hypnosis and other psychological therapies, he says, is that “there’s no intervening industry that has the interest in pushing it.””
“Lehrer appears to have hit the impasse suffered by many mind–body therapies—with nothing to sell, there’s limited funding for research.”
In another section, she discusses how stress “ages” (shortens) our telomeres, shown in mothers of autistic children and others. What’s more, our environment as children strongly affects how we respond to external factors as adults; moreover, that early environment shapes the development of our brain’s reward circuits, such that we’re more “likely to prioritize immediate pleasure over future consequences,” especially in areas like drugs, sex, or money.
Fear or exhilaration? That’s a critical distinction in how you feel, because it can affect the physiological state when climbing a mountain, giving a presentation, or taking a test.
Is it possible a huge indicator of my response to stresses is influenced by my lifelong relationship to games? In games, challenges are the entire point – getting over the ‘hump’ and overcoming the obstacle to succeed – has that truly influenced my perspective on life?
There was a good, if short, section on meditation, and I’m glad I learned about the power of hypnosis, suggestion, and attention diversion above and beyond meditation. Yet another simple one sentence that elegantly sums up the power of meditative practices:
“Mindfulness, it seems, may put us another step ahead—we can have thoughts, but we don’t have to be ruled by them.”
And in some cases, she notes meditation may not be the amazing cure-all that some push, because “The participants were already keen meditators, he points out, so the study gave them three months to do something they loved.” Good point!
The COSTA RICA section! Diet doesn’t matter! Genes don’t, either. But living alone and having contact with a child are strongly correlated to their lifespan! On that note, I love the interdependence comment:
“The same is true for interdependence, “the idea that we can’t just survive by ourselves, with no help from others.” Even the simplest item we need to survive, like a sandwich, connects us with many other people, he points out—from farmers to supermarket workers. Extending that analysis to all of the things we need to get through a day—such as heating, electricity, roads, cars, fuel—demonstrates that we’re dependent on a vast number of people.” [Emphasis added]
And the wording gets more serious…
“They concluded that social isolation is as dangerous for health as obesity, inactivity and smoking. The evidence was as strong as in the landmark U.S. government report that in 1964 officially linked smoking with lung cancer.” [Emphasis added]
But she leaves us with a brilliant comment by an interviewee:
“To me, the universe is connection, it’s communication,” she says. “If you start to lose that, you start to die.” –Lupita Quereda
“At the heart of almost all the pathways I’ve learned about is one guiding principle: if we feel safe, cared for and in control—in a critical moment during injury or disease, or generally throughout our lives—we do better. We feel less pain, less fatigue, less sickness. Our immune system works with us instead of against us. Our bodies ease off on emergency defenses and can focus on repair and growth.” [Emphasis added]
Baroflex – I want to try biofeedback, and will try a 5s/5s breath meditation!
“He argues though that because the speed of breathing needed to achieve resonance is slightly different for each person, maximizing the effect with meditation alone can take years of practice, whereas with biofeedback, we can learn it in a few minutes. “Most people are able to pick it up right away,” he tells me. “That’s very different from living in a Zen monastery for ten years!”” [Emphasis added]
The CDC’s worst named drug epidemic in history? Opiate addiction:
“By 2012, 15,000 Americans were dying each year from prescription pill overdoses, more than from heroin and cocaine combined.”
In one of her final chapters, Marchant discusses religion, taking us to the Lourdes, France pilgrimage for Catholics. She notes the power of belief in religion to heal, but also reminds us of its dark side.
The description of epigenetics for the layperson is perfect:
“Instead our genomes encode a wide variety of potential selves, and our social environment—including our perception of that environment—helps to determine which of those selves we become.”
There were some good notes on what’s called nurturant-involved” parenting, where kids have boundaries and consequences, but clearly understand that those exist because of their parent’s love.
The worst of “alternative” medicine? Stupid, dangerous advice:
“A homeopath in one high-street pharmacy told Newsnight’s researcher: “They make it so your energy doesn’t have a malaria-shaped hole in it so the malarial mosquitos won’t come along and fill that in.” I find it hard not to feel angry reading such nonsensical—and potentially fatal—advice.”
Marchant ends with cautious, reluctant hope, noting how much we spend on healthcare and how ineffective and inefficient it is. She then gives us a reminder to be skeptical about doctors or scientists who try to separate “mind” from “body”:
“Nearly 400 years after Descartes’ separation of the mind and body, we still tend to think of ourselves as logical, rational beings, with highly developed minds that allow us to transcend our biological, animal nature. The evidence shows something very different: that our bodies and minds have evolved in exquisite harmony, so perfectly integrated that it is impossible to consider one without the other. Terms like “mind–body” and “holistic” are often derided as flaky and unscientific, but in fact it’s the idea of a mind distinct from the body, an ephemeral entity that floats somewhere in the skull like a spirit or soul, that makes no scientific sense.” [Emphasis added]
Beautiful or miscellaneous quotes:
Finally, between 1 and 2 p.m., the men saw a metal tripod left behind by Chinese surveyors in 1975. They had reached the summit. Habeler stammered and cried, his tears running from under his goggles into his beard and freezing on his cheeks. Messner says he just sat, legs dangling, with nothing to do at last but breathe: “I am nothing more than a single, narrow, gasping lung floating over the mists and the summits.” [Emphasis added]
She works part-time as an art therapist, doing pottery with prison inmates and psychiatric patients with conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Working with clay provides a safe space for them to talk, she says. “If the conversation gets difficult, you can go right back to the clay.” [Emphasis added]