Review published on March 19, 2017.
The field of alternative medicine is plagued with claims that can be as misleading as they are lethal. In Simon Singh’s book, Trick or Treatment, he covers a number of the alternative medicines with a solid scientific rebuttal of those that fail to live up to expectations. But is there something going on that science is beginning to uncover? In this book Marchant considers the latest scientific research into the effect that our minds can have over our bodies, with solid evidence of the effects of positive thoughts and mindsets.
In the book she considers some fairly fundamental questions; the way our minds work, the almost magical effect of placebo, the management of pain and how the act of caring for someone can be transformative. There are chapters on training your immune system and the power of friendships. All of these things, when used in conjunction with a sympathetic doctor and the appropriate course of drugs can have an amazing effect compared to just regular treatments. Alternative medicine has lots of flaws, but what it does do well is to spend time with and care about the patient, something that conventional appointments with their rushed 10 minute slots and almost guaranteed prescription at the end of the consultation seems to have now lost. Throughout the book she meets with the scientists, doctors and patients who are at the leading edge of this research, bringing us their perspectives and trying to articulate why they think that it is working.
When reading this it did bring to mind Pratchett’s headology, the way that people see themselves and the world around them. But this is about real lives and people who are being treated with regular medicines, but who are fortunate to have doctors who are considering the whole individual at the same time. Marchant writes this with sparkling clarity and authority, and thankfully rarely dips into obscure medical jargon. It made for very interesting reading too, with some well written examples of those that have been healed or had their lives return to something closer to normal. Based on the research here, we need to consider both mind and body treatments not just a blind acceptance of the newest drugs. All very interesting stuff and much food for thought.
Pail Cheney 4*
Cure: A Journey Into the Science of Mind over Body by Jo Marchant, published on 29 December, 2016 by Canongate Books in paperback
Longlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize 2017
Wellcome Book Prize 2017 longlist: Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari