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Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind…
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Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body

by Jo Marchant

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Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
Jo Marchant's bio says she is a freelance journalist who often writes for New Scientist and The Guardian and was a former editor for >Nature. She has a PhD in microbiology and background in genetics.

Cure is a look at various types of alternative therapies and if/how they might affect heath. Marchant approaches the subject as an open-minded skeptic looking to understand both the mechanics and the appeal for patients of what the medical industry often refers to as "non-conforming" treatments. Some alternative therapies fair better than others under her examination (as it should be).

The book ends up presenting more questions than answers, but this is in its favor. Marchant is willing to entertain that some therapies have potential as a compliment to prevailing medical practices, and she ponders that there is a place for such therapies when the patient's condition improves regardless of the "why" of the improvement. In other words, while science will always want to know exactly why and how something works, the patient simply wants to be well. If a patient can cut their intake of a highly toxic or addictive drug by 2/3 through "honest placebos" or biofeedback, shouldn't doctors be able to offer them that option? If a burn victim withstands the excruciatingly painful wound management procedures better by using VR programs or hypnosis and there is no harmful effects, why not utilize those tools?

One of the things Marchant keeps coming up against is that alternative therapies face an uphill battle in being proven of value because of two things: access to funding for research and entrenched mindsets against anything that doesn't conform to the "pills and probes" prevailing practices. To be approved for use, new procedures or materials must pass clinical trials. Clinical trials rely heavily on double blind studies as the standard for proving efficacy. While a few researchers have come up with ways to create double-blind studies for placebos, acupuncture, etc., it's nearly impossible to double-blind study things like hypnosis or meditation. Without the study, ethics boards will not approve use of alternative therapies. Also, as Marchant details, nearly 3/4 of funding for clinical trials in the US comes from Big Pharma, which has zero interest in proving any therapy that would reduce the need for their products.

Doctors are not above being greedy either. In one case, a doctor doing research on severe inflammation illnesses at first considered that meditation or biofeedback might be beneficial to patients for decreasing inflammation from chronic conditions whereas electrical stimulation via implantation of an electrode of the vagus nerve in a method he developed would be more useful in acute cases (such as sepsis). When Marchant tried to interview him for the book to get his current opinion on using non-invasive methods (such as biofeedback), he declined to be interviewed. She noted that his current articles do not mention the possibility of using mind-body techniques. What was different between the time she first talked to him and now? Oh, now he has started a company producing the electronic implants. Again, there is little interest in championing a method that doesn't require the patient to purchase your company's product. (Let's just face it: western medical practice can pretty much be boiled down to "the patient isn't going to get jack unless it improves the bottom line of the drug and insurance companies.")

While I didn't intentionally plan to read this book following reading The Gene: An Intimate History, they made a good pairing. Some of the information covered in The Gene pops up in this book, so when Marchant started explaining telomeres and oxidative stress, the concept was already familiar.

So, why not five stars? Minor reasons, really. While I enjoyed the book and feel it provided many things to ponder, there was no big "a-ha" moment for me to spur that fifth star. The author-insertion so popular in pop science books now sort of irks me. And then there is probably the silliest reason of all, which is I think a person with a PhD in microbiology writing a science book should be able to find another way to discuss human waste than the word "poo." Every time I came across "poo," George Carlin's "Shoot" routine ran through my head, " Doo-doo, ca-ca, poo-poo and good old number two." What the blazes is wrong with "defecate"? It's just hard to take seriously someone talking about science when they trot out a word that one equates with potty-training a toddler. ( )
  Yaaresse | Apr 24, 2018 |
3 1/2 stars.

My reasons for wanting to read this book are likely atypical. I grew up in household that eschewed medical care and relied entirely on prayer for healing. Since leaving that environment in my 20s, I've wondered how intelligent people like my parents can feel that this belief or practice healed them. Reading Cure helped me find some answers, and perhaps the information it discusses will help you. Although I suspect your reasons for reading are different.

Author Jo Marchant reviews a wide variety of mind-body techniques, such as hypnotherapy, meditation, placebo and nocebo effects, virtual reality, bioelectronics, and religious pilgrimages. In each case she interviews experts and researchers who are trying to prove or disprove the way their chosen techniques impacts our bodies, our health, and our longevity.

Thankfully, she tells patient stories to bring the research-heavy text a human element. Marchant takes a potentially dry subject and infuses it with warmth and humor. She genuinely wants to understand the connection between mind and body. And the conclusions she draws help show how people living with chronic illness, pain, and even life-threatening conditions can benefit from mind-body or holistic approaches along with medical care.

She says in her acknowledgements, "I started this book fascinated by the science of how our minds might influence our bodies, but speaking to patients and trial volunteers helped me to realize that, beyond its intellectual importance, this subject has profound practical consequences for our health and how we all live our lives."

For the first time, I have some solid data-driven conclusions about why and how a group of people could believe in faith healing. This made the book well worth my time! ( )
  TheBibliophage | Mar 20, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I found this book fascinating. The author is a scientist, with a PHD is genetics and microbiology, but steps outside her comfort zone, somewhat, to look at how the mind has a much greater impact than ever previously thought, on health and physical well-being. Explored are the effectiveness of placebos (even when the patient is well aware they are taking a "fake" drug); virtual reality treatment for pain management; acupuncture; meditation and the central nervous system; hypnosis; and others. Scientist that she is, the author documents studies into these various treatments, and shows how the research has been constructed and controlled to be reliable. She travels around the world to find these obscure research scientists, most of whom deal with on-going funding issues for their efforts, due to the lack of interest by the big pharmaceutical companies into treatments that do not involve the ingesting of expensive, and for them profitable, drugs.
Marchant looks at research that has explored how trauma and other emotionally difficult experiences in childhood relate to poor physical health in later life. She also explores the role of supportive caretakers, empathy in medical facilities, social connections, and religious faith, documenting studies that have looked at each and found striking differences in outcomes.
The author also mentions treatments for which she found little supportive research, although this is given only a brief overview. The evidence she finds is convincing to both the reader, and apparently, to the author. While Marchant never discounts the role of traditional medicine, she hopes for a more openness and acceptance of alternative treatments that can greatly benefit patients.
Despite the author's science background and training, she writes in such a way that is easily read and understood by the general reader. I was provided a copy of this book from LibraryThing, and thank them, Jo Marchant, and Crown Publishers for this opportunity. ( )
  jhoaglin | Aug 15, 2017 |
Marchant is a popular science writer with a PhD in genetics and medical microbiology who has written for New Scientist, Nature, the Guardian, and the Smithonian . She is rigorously skeptical of alternative therapies and the miraculous; however she isn't dismissive of the fact that people are sometimes helped by them. Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body is her examination of the mind's power to influence physical health and well being. She reviews various scientific studies, interviews those who have participated in them, and explores what the brain can or cannot do as far as healing our bodies.

Marchant observes a well known phenomena in contemporary medical research: the placebo effect. She cites research which shows that in some instances, a placebo works even if the person knows they are getting the placebo, though it impacts symptoms rather than the disease itself (still valuable for quality of life). She also notes the 'nocebo effect' where a person's health declines because of the belief that something is causing them harm (i.e. believing you were poisoned, or had a curse put on you). Placebos can be a powerful counter medicine to these psychosomatic ailments and empathetic patient care does make a real difference in prognosis. So Marchant admits some value in alternative medicines:

Therapies such as homeopathy and Reiki contain no active ingredient and show no benefit in rigorous clinical trials. They are based on principles that from a scientific point of view are nonsensical—almost certainly do not work in the way they claim they do. But with long, personal consultations and empathetic care, they are perfectly honed to maximize placebo responses. For that reason they probably do provide real relief, particularly for chronic ailments that conventional medicine is not well equipped to treat (39)
Marchant examines the benefits of combining a placebo with Pavlovian conditioning, the benefits of cognitive therapies in fighting Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, hypnosis in treating Irritable Bowl Syndrome, and the benefits virtual reality for Pain management. In the latter part of the book she talks about how stress affects health, the benefits of meditation the importance of relationships and positive outlook for aging well, and how manipulating the vagus nerve through electricity may impact our immunity. Her final chapter examines the role of faith in healing, specifically at Lourdes.

Marchant doesn't believe in miracles and treats religious ritual like a powerful placebo. She does volunteer at Lourdes and record her observations of a worship service she participated in:

I feel out of place amid all the singing and signing. I've never attended a Catholic Mass, and I usually try my hardest to avoid religious ceremonies. I get uneasy about the idea of substituting reason and clear thinking for robes, incantations and mysterious higher powers. But at the same time it is beautiful; a hugely impressive assault on the senses. (266).
Later she writes, "Lourdes didn't turn me into a believer. But after attending this giant underground service, I'm struck by the physical force that religious belief can have" (227). She sees the power of religion to effect people's health, for good or ill, in mechanisms like stress and ritual. She prefers a naturalistic interpretation of how healing occurs—a scientific explanation of how healing took place invalidates it as a miracle (which she doesn't believe in anyway).

I have participated and benefited from healing prayers, but I am also aware of studies on intercessory prayer that show no significant change, and reveal faith healers' success rates as equal to that of a placebo (about 29%). I don't share Marchant's skepticism of the miraculous. I do, however, appreciate her well-documented look at the science behind the power of the mind to influence physical health. Her bias towards a rigorous look at the evidence is what made me want to read the book. I especially found the studies of the placebo effect in the first part of the book interesting, and this is a fun read. I recommend this for anyone interested in our current understanding of the brain's ability to effect our body. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. I give this four stars.

Note: I received this book from Random House and Crown Publishers through the Blogging For Books Program in exchange for my honest review.


( )
  Jamichuk | May 22, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
"Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body" by Jo Marchant was a fantastic read. It felt like a much longer book than it was, but in a good way. Jo Marchant delves into our minds and shows us just what it can and cannot do. How we react to placebos, and actual medicine, was eye-opening to me. The part that has stuck with me the most was the fact that there are certain medicines that will only work if the patient knows they are taking it. This was such an interesting read, and at just shy of three hundred pages I would recommend everyone read it. ( )
  wincrow | Mar 17, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
This deceptively simple idea is one of the most powerful in the book: Sometimes the difference between feeling well and feeling awful is simply a matter of where we direct our attention.
 
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To my parents, Jim and Diana Marchant,
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385348150, Hardcover)

A rigorous, skeptical, deeply reported look at the new science behind the mind's extraordinary ability to heal the body

Have you ever felt a surge of adrenaline after narrowly avoiding an accident? Salivated at the sight (or thought) of a sour lemon? Felt turned on just from hearing your partner's voice? If so, then you've experienced how dramatically the workings of your mind can affect your body.

Yet while we accept that stress or anxiety can damage our health, the idea of "healing thoughts" was long ago hijacked by New Age gurus and spiritual healers. Recently, however, serious scientists from a range of fields have been uncovering evidence that our thoughts, emotions, and beliefs can ease pain, heal wounds, fend off infection and heart disease, even slow the progression of AIDS and some cancers.

In Cure, award-winning science writer Jo Marchant travels the world to meet the physicians, patients, and researchers on the cutting edge of this new world of medicine. We learn how meditation protects against depression and dementia, how social connections increase life expectancy, and how patients who feel cared for recover from surgery faster. We meet Iraq war veterans who are using a virtual arctic world to treat their burns and children whose ADHD is kept under control with half the normal dose of medication. We watch as a transplant patient uses the smell of lavender to calm his hostile immune system and an Olympic runner shaves vital seconds off his time through mind-power alone.

Drawing on the very latest research, Marchant explores the vast potential of the mind's ability to heal, acknowledges its limitations, and explains how we can make use of the findings in our own lives.

(retrieved from Amazon Tue, 08 Dec 2015 09:49:38 -0500)

"A rigorous, skeptical, deeply reported look at the new science behind the mind's extraordinary ability to heal the body Have you ever felt a surge of adrenaline after narrowly avoiding an accident? Salivated at the sight (or thought) of a sour lemon? Felt turned on just from hearing your partner's voice? If so, then you've experienced how dramatically the workings of your mind can affect your body. Yet while we accept that stress or anxiety can damage our health, the idea of "healing thoughts" was long ago hijacked by New Age gurus and spiritual healers. Recently, however, serious scientists from a range of fields have been uncovering evidence that our thoughts, emotions, and beliefs can ease pain, heal wounds, fend off infection and heart disease, even slow the progression of AIDS and some cancers. In Cure, award-winning science writer Jo Marchant travels the world to meet the physicians, patients, and researchers on the cutting edge of this new world of medicine. We learn how meditation protects against depression and dementia, how social connections increase life expectancy, and how patients who feel cared for recover from surgery faster. We meet Iraq war veterans who are using a virtual arctic world to treat their burns and children whose ADHD is kept under control with half the normal dose of medication. We watch as a transplant patient uses the smell of lavender to calm his hostile immune system and an Olympic runner shaves vital seconds off his time through mind-power alone. Drawing on the very latest research, Marchant explores the vast potential of the mind's ability to heal, acknowledges its limitations, and explains how we can make use of the findings in our own lives"--… (more)

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