This is a book review of Cure, a Crown Publishers book printed in 2016. Author Jo Marchant is a science writer, a geneticist and a medical microbiologist. The book is 300 pages including extensive footnotes and a comprehensive index.
Cure explores a murky area disdained by modern medicine: the connection between our thoughts and our health. Jo Marchant traveled the world tracking down evidence of this connection, sometimes unsuccessfully. From the placebo effect to changes in our genes, Cure attempts to pin down exactly what happens when what we think changes us physically. Jo tries to find the limits of what the mind can do.
The book begins with the placebo effect. It has been well documented for more than a century that if a person receives a medical treatment, there will probably be some improvement in their condition. This happens even if the treatment is bogus(sugar pills or water capsules) and even if the person knows treatment is bogus. The more strongly the person believes in the treatment, the more improvement there will be.
And it is important to understand that many prescription drugs are barely more effective than a sugar pill. This is especially true for antidepressants and painkillers. Most drugs work more because we think they are going to work than because of anything they physically change in the body. A few popular drugs have no effect at all unless we know we are taking them.
But many drugs do work because they change things in our bodies. Cure searches out the physical changes caused by our minds. This book asks the questions: “How do our thoughts, conscious or unconscious, make us healthier or sicker? How does the mind cure us or kill us? What are the limits?”
I learned some interesting and useful facts while reading Cure. It surprised me that the placebo effect works even when we know we are taking a placebo. I never realized how effective it was to give your pills a pep-talk before taking them. And I did not know that our thoughts could affect our epigenome, turning some genes on or off.
Most of mainstream modern medicine will scoff at this book. But they still scoff at nutrition and the strong connection between whole food diets and health. They still scoff at yoga and meditation and other “esoteric” practices that contribute to a healthy mind and body. There is just no money to made from keeping people healthy without drugs and extensive batteries of tests.
Read Cure and take its lessons to heart. We can’t cure our cancer by wishing it away or by visualizing the cancer cells dying. Our broken leg won’t mend properly no matter how sincerely we will it. But we can, with the right approach and thoughts, help prevent many cancers from ever getting started and assist our immune system while the leg heals.
The core lesson of Cure is that we are an integrated system. Our minds and our bodies work together on almost everything. If we want to be healthy and happy and productive, we need to care for the mind and the body and make sure they play nicely together. Cure is an early attempt to give this integration the scientific backing it deserves.