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Cure: A Journey Into the Science of Mind Over Body
By Jo Marchant
Crown / Penguin Random House
Reviewed by Jason Pettus
As a middle-aged guy with barely any health insurance and who is officially now pushing 50, I find myself more and more interested in lively NPR-style nonfiction guides to taking your health into your own hands; and that subject doesn't get much more dramatic than Jo Marchant's brand-new Cure, instantly controversial for its main message, that traditional science is starting to more and more prove something that the New Agers have been saying for decades, that your thoughts and attitudes can and do have a direct influence over such physiological, biological traits like your mood, pain levels, even the way your autoimmune system works. Although let's be clear -- the PhD holder Marchant says right in the introduction that New Age BS is still New Age BS, that it's simply impossible to do things like "wish away cancer" or trick a diabetic body into thinking it's getting insulin when it's not, and that the vast majority of new discoveries about this subject have mostly to do with things that the brain and the brain alone controls in our bodies, things like our heartrate and the amount of hormones that get released into our bloodstream, the amount of pain we perceive, even such things like how tired or alert we feel when fighting off the flu.
That said, however, this book is a real revelation, especially mind-blowing because of all of it being based on actual Western-type scientifically rigorous testing going on around the world, showing through lab-based control-tested experiments such things as that placebo pills can often work just as well as "real" medicine in certain cases (even when the patient knows they're taking a placebo), that you can train your body like a Pavlovian dog to get a full effect out of half-doses of medicine, that a 99-cent iPhone app can let regular schmoes regulate things like their heartbeat in a way traditionally reserved for yogis who practice for decades, and that such seemingly innocuous things like meditation and having friends who take care of you when sick have an actual, quantifiable effect on the biological processes that go into recovering from illness. As Marchant says throughout this eye-opening tome, you need to take all of these things with a grain of salt (and in fact this is a big running theme throughout, that all of these findings need much more official studies before we can start taking them for granted, which are nearly impossible to get funded because 95 percent of the medical experiments done in this country are sponsored by drug companies, who have no interest in funding experiments that prove that people need less drugs and not more); but certainly this book has given me a brand-new way to look at the subject of illness and just how much control I actually have over it, an illuminating read that is worth your time regardless of what kinds of conclusions you come to by the end. Strongly recommended to one and all.
Out of 10: 9.3