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No. 16: Summer 1981

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Belief Systems And Health

Can one's mind-set affect one's immunity to disease? Lenard explores (in popular style) the roles of mental attitude, visualization techniques, and placebos in fighting and preventing cancer and other ailments. Placebos are nothing new. Most doctors admit they sometimes work for some people. Why, they don't know. Placebo action seems closely allied to a person's mental attitude. Many doctors will also allow that a positive attitude helps a lot in fighting illness and that depression aggravates it.

Visualization techniques, though, are hotly debated. Will cancer cells be destroyed, or at least stop growing, if the patient visualized them as weak things that are vulnerable to the body's killer cells? Proponents of visualization recom-mend that a cancer patient visualize his killer cells as protecting knights in armor that swoop down and skewer the enemy cancer cells. In a visualization session, one focuses one's mind on such images and, in essence, wills his body to fight back. There is some evidence that visualization helps.

(Lenard, Lane; "Visions That Vanquish Cancer," Science Digest, 89:59, March 1981.)

Comment. The crucial scientific question in all the above methods is: How does a belief system mobilize biological systems?

From Science Frontiers #16, Summer 1981. 1981-2000 William R. Corliss