Do our thoughts impact our health?
Dr. Anne Harrington, chair of the history of science department at Harvard University, has been researching this question for many years. Convinced that there is a connection between mind and body, in 2008 she authored, The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine. In a favorable review, The New England Journal of Medicine noted:
“This approach suggests ‘that there is more to physical illness than can be seen just in the body; and more to healing than can be found in just pills and shots.’”
Before reading Dr. Harrington’s book, I was curious to learn what defined mind-body medicine. She writes that it doesn’t consist of a single approach to healing, but rather a “patchwork” of different methods that often “pull in different directions.”
She also notes that that many of the mind-body healing methods have historical roots in the Bible and other religious writings. As a Christian Scientist, I was interested to find that she mentions Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), the discoverer and founder of Christian Science. Describing Christian Science, Harrington writes, “The fundamental reality of the universe is spiritual; it is divine Mind or God, in which all of us participate and in which we have health and wholeness.”
Harrington relates how Eddy struggled with ill health during her early adult life, and when conventional medicine failed to heal her, she experimented with the alternative healthcare methods of her day. Eddy also studied the Bible her entire life. In the winter of 1866, she had a severe accident. When she regained consciousness, she asked for her Bible and read the Gospels gaining a spiritual understanding that transformed her thought. The experience empowered her and, despite a dire prognosis, quickly restored her to health. Eddy went on to further study what had happened to her and wrote a book titled, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.”
In Science and Health, Eddy included many incidents that highlight a connection between thought and health. One example involved a patient who was made to believe that he had been hospitalized in a bed where a cholera patient had died. Immediately, the symptoms of the disease appeared and the man died, yet no cholera patient had been in that bed. It was not cholera that killed the man, but his belief that he had contracted the feared disease.
In “The Cure Within,” Harrington shares a related story about another patient, Mr. Wright. In 1957, stricken by disease and a prognosis that he would not live much longer, he heard about an experimental drug called Krebiozen and persuaded his doctor to let him try it. It was given to him on a Friday and on Monday the doctor wrote:
“I had left him febrile, gasping for air, completely bedridden. Now, here he was walking around the ward, chatting happily with the nurses, and spreading his message of good cheer to any who would listen. The tumor masses had melted like snow balls on a hot stove and in only a few days, they were half the original size!”
Mr. Wright was released from the hospital and returned home the picture of health. Yet, when he read in the newspaper that the American Medical Association had denounced the drug as worthless, he quickly relapsed, was hospitalized, and died within two days.
I believe these, and other examples, show there is still much to learn regarding the connection between what we think and our health.