Canongate Books ISBN: 085786 8853
Don’t let the suspiciously New Age title put you off: Jo Marchant is a biologist with a doctorate in genetics and medical microbiology, a former editor of New Scientist and Nature – and CURE was shortlisted for a Royal Society science book prize.
Marchant presents the growing evidence that the mind has a powerful effect on illness and wellness in clear, accessible language. She takes a healthily sceptical view of the studies, her research is impeccable, and her evaluations are measured and rigorously scientific.
Since the 1950s, placebos (inert substitutes for drugs or treatments) have been used to compare the effectiveness of ‘real’ and ‘fake’ treatments, ruling out the use of some drugs because they are ‘no better’ than placebos. In CURE, Marchant investigates the positive value of placebos: talking to scientists who have recruited the mind to increase the potency of medicines. So, for example, Lupus – a chronic condition which causes the body’s immune system to attacks its own tissues – is often treated with toxic drugs which suppress the immune system. Marchant presents evidence that the brain can ‘train’ the immune system to respond to lower doses of these cytotoxic drugs – sparing patients from unpleasant and even dangerous side-effects. By extension, the same methods may be adapted for transplant and cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
CURE also scrutinizes the medical value of hypnotherapy, meditation and yoga in a range of conditions including Parkinson’s, MS, depression, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and chronic pain, citing studies of meditators which show a measurable and significant increase of grey matter in areas of the brain which control learning, memory, and emotional regulation, with a corresponding reduction of the amygdala, which is associated with anxiety and stress. Marchant concludes that these simple, low-cost techniques which take advantage of the way our minds have been shaped by evolution could help us to live in tune with our bodies, harnessing the best of medical science with the ‘hard-wired’ communication between our bodies and our brains.
Margaret and her forensic collaborator, Helen Pepper, blog and vlog on writing and forensics on Facebook AshleyDyerNovels.