Saturday, May 21, 2011

Think into Health

Can one's mind nurture good health?

Dr.Edzard Ernst, a leading professor of complementary medicine in England, will soon step down after 18 years in his post. Despite his job title, Dr. Ernst is no ardent promoter of snake oil.

Instead, he and his research group have pioneered the rigorous study of everything from acupuncture and crystal healing to Reiki channelling and herbal remedies. The conclusion after 160 studies is that "95% of the treatments he and his colleagues examined—in fields as diverse as acupuncture, herbal medicine, homeopathy and reflexology—are statistically indistinguishable from placebo treatments."

The conclusion weakens the cause of the many forms of alternative medicine, but Dr. Ernst believes there is something that conventional doctors can usefully learn from the chiropractors, homeopaths and Ascended Masters. There is a "therapeutic value of the placebo effect, one of the strangest and slipperiest phenomena in medicine."

"A placebo is a sham medical treatment—a pharmacologically inert sugar pill, perhaps, or a piece of pretend surgery. Its main scientific use at the moment is in clinical trials as a baseline for comparison with another treatment. But just because the medicine is not real does not mean it doesn’t work. That is precisely the point of using it in trials: researchers have known for years that comparing treatment against no treatment at all will give a misleading result.

Unlike their conventional counterparts, practitioners of alternative medicine often excel at harnessing the placebo effect, says Dr Ernst. They offer long, relaxed consultations with their customers (exactly the sort of “good bedside manner” that harried modern doctors struggle to provide). And they believe passionately in their treatments, which are often delivered with great and reassuring ceremony. That alone can be enough to do good, even though the magnets, crystals and ultra-dilute solutions applied to the patients are, by themselves, completely useless."

The article in The Economist certainly offers much opportunity for reflection as to what ails us and as to how the mind may play a central role in achieving wellness.