My book Mind Over Medicine is full of data scientifically proving that the mind can heal—or harm—the body. But data can be dry, and sometimes what resonates most deeply within our souls are stories. So sit back, grab a cup of tea, and let’s have story time. I’m going to tell you a few true stories that will demonstrate to you how powerfully the mind affects your physiology.
1. Mr. Wright
As reported by Bruno Klopfer in the Journal of Projective Techniques in 1957, Dr. West was treating Mr. Wright, who had an advanced cancer called lymphosarcoma. All treatments had failed, and time was running out. Mr. Wright’s neck, chest, abdomen, armpits, and groin were filled with tumors the size of oranges, his spleen and liver were enlarged, and his cancer was causing his chest to fill up with two quarts of milky fluid every day, which had to be drained in order for him to breathe. Dr. West didn’t expect him to last a week.
But Mr. Wright desperately wanted to live, and he hung his hope on a promising new drug called Krebiozen. He begged his doctor to treat him with the new drug, but the drug was only being offered in clinical trials to people who were believed to have at least three months left to live. Mr. Wright was too sick to qualify.
But Mr. Wright didn’t give up. Knowing the drug existed and believing the drug would be his miracle cure, he pestered his doc until Dr. West reluctantly gave in and injected him with Krebiozen on a Friday.
To his utter shock, the following Monday, Dr. West found his patient walking around out of bed. Mr. Wright’s “tumor masses had melted like snowballs on a hot stove” and were half their original size. Ten days after the first dose of Krebiozen, Mr. Wright left the hospital, apparently cancer free.
Mr. Wright was rockin’ and rollin,’ praising Krebiozen as a miracle drug for two months until the scientific literature began reporting that Krebiozen didn’t seem to be effective. Mr. Wright, who trusted what he read in the literature, fell into a deep depression, and his cancer came back.
This time, Dr. West, who genuinely wanted to help save his patient, decided to get sneaky. He told Mr. Wright—that some of the initial supplies of the drug had deteriorated during shipping, making them less effective, but that he scored a new batch of highly concentrated, ultra-pure Krebiozen, which he could give him. (Of course, this was a bold-faced lie.)
Dr. West then injected Mr. Wright with nothing but distilled water. And a seemingly miraculous thing happened—again. The tumors melted away, the fluid in his chest disappeared, and Mr. Wright was feeling great again for another two months.
Then the American Medical Association blew it by announcing that a nationwide study of Krebiozen proved that the drug was utterly worthless. This time, Mr. Wright lost all faith in his treatment. His cancer came right back, and he died two days later.
2. The Hexed Girls
As described by George Engel in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Baltimore Case Study Number 469861 was an African American woman born 22 years earlier on Friday the 13th in the Okefenokee Swamp near the Georgia-Florida border. She was the third of three girls delivered that day by a midwife who proclaimed that all three girls, born on such a fateful day, were hexed. The first, she announced, would die before her 16th birthday. The second would not survive her 21st. And the patient in question was told she would die before her 23rd birthday.
The first two girls died within one day of their 16th and 21st birthdays, respectively. The third woman, terrified that she would die on her 23rd birthday, showed up at the hospital the day before her birthday, hyperventilating. Soon afterwards, before she turned 23, she died, proving the midwife’s predictions correct.
3. The Blind Women of Khmer Rouge
As described in Anne Harrington’s The Cure Within, 200 cases of blindness were reported in a group of Cambodian women forced by the Khmer Rouge to witness the torture and slaughter of those close to them, particularly the men in their lives. Examination of these women found nothing physically wrong with their eyes. The conclusion those trying to help them came to was that by being forced to view the unbearable, “they had all cried until they could not see.”
4. Multiple Personalities With Different Health Issues
Anthony Robbin’s Unlimited Power describes a case of a psychiatric patient with a split personality. One of her personalities was diabetic, while another was not. Her blood sugars would be normal when she was in her non-diabetic personality, but then when she shifted into her diabetic alter ego, her blood sugars rose, and all medical evidence demonstrated that she was diabetic. When her personality flipped back to the non-diabetic counterpart, her blood sugars normalized.
Psychiatrist Bennett Braun, author of The Treatment of Multiple Personality Disorder, describes the case of Timmy, who also had multiple personalities. One personality was allergic to orange juice, and when this personality drank orange juice, Timmy would break into blistering hives. However, another personality was able to drink orange juice uneventfully. If the allergic personality was in the midst of an allergy attack and he shifted back to the non-allergic personality, the hives would disappear instantly.
5. Stamatis Moraitis
Stamatis Moraitis was a Greek war veteran who was living in the United States when he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and told he had only 9 months to live. He was offered aggressive treatment, but after 9 doctors apparently assured him that it wouldn’t save his life, he decided to save his money, decline treatment, and move with his wife back to his native Ikaria, a Greek island where he could be buried with his ancestors in a graveyard overlooking the Aegean Sea.
He and his wife moved into a small house on a vineyard with his elderly parents, where he reconnected with his faith and started going to his old church. When his friends got wind of the fact that Stamatis was back home, they showed up with bottles of wine, books, and board games to entertain him and keep him company. He planted vegetables in a garden, basked in sunshine, savored the salty air, and relished in his love for his wife.
Six months passed, and not only did he not die, he was actually feeling better than ever. He started working in the untended vineyard during the day, making himself useful, and in the evenings, he’d play dominos with friends. He took a lot of naps, rarely looked at a watch, and spent a lot of time outdoors. At one point, 25 years after his diagnosis, Stamatis went back to the United States to ask his doctors what had happened. Apparently, the doctors were all dead. Stamatis finally died this year in Ikaria. He was 102 years old.
6. Anita Moorjani
In her book Dying To Be Me, Anita Moorjani tells the story of how she was dying of end stage Stage 4 lymphoma when she experienced the classic “white light” near death experience many have described. As she travelled to the other side, she was able to look down upon her loved ones, even though some of them were not in the same room with her. Her heart was filled with a feeling of profound unconditional love, and she was happy to be free of her dying, tumor-riddled body.
Then she was told that she had a choice. She could stay in the white light and die, or she could go back and share her story with others. She didn’t want to come back. Her body had been in so much pain, and her soul had been suffering. But she was told that if she came back, her cancer would be cured. She believed what she was told, and felt called to come back so she could share her experience.
Anita’s cancer was gone within several weeks. This all happened under the care of her bewildered doctors, who documented her spontaneous remission. Anita is now on the Hay House speaking circuit with me, spreading the message that death is nothing to fear. I will get to hug her this weekend at Hay House’s I Can Do It conference in Pasadena.
7. Hope heals
As described by Dr. Bernie Siegel in Love, Medicine & Miracles, a chemotherapy regimen called “EPOCH” was being studied in a research protocol for efficacy. Most of the study centers were reporting consistent results—some benefit from the chemotherapy, but nothing earth-shattering. But one study center was getting dramatically better results, so the research team investigated. What were they doing differently?
Turns out the doctor in the center with better results had renamed the chemotherapy regimen. Instead of telling his patients they were getting EPOCH, he rearranged the letters and dosed them with HOPE.
8. Fake surgery heals knees
In an article in The New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Bruce Moseley, an orthopedic surgeon renowned for the knee surgeries he performed on people with debilitating knee pain, reported about a brilliant study he designed to prove that his signature knee surgery was more effective than others.
The patients in one group of the study got Dr. Moseley’s famous surgery. The other group of patients underwent an elaborately crafted sham surgery, during which the patient was sedated, three incisions were made in the same location as those getting the real surgery, and the patient was shown a prerecorded tape of someone else’s surgery on the video monitor. Dr. Moseley even splashed water around to mimic the sound of the lavage procedure. Then he sewed the knee back up without actually doing anything.
As expected, one third of the patients getting the real surgery experienced resolution of their knee pain. But what really shocked the researchers was that those getting the sham surgery had the same result! In fact, at one point in the study, those getting the sham surgery were actually having less knee pain than those getting the real surgery, probably because they didn’t undergo the trauma of the surgery.
What did Dr. Moseley’s patients think about the study results? As one World War II veteran who benefited from Dr. Moseley’s placebo knee surgery said, “The surgery was two years ago and the knee has never bothered me since. It’s just like my other knee now.”
9. Fake surgery heals chest pain
In the past, ligation of the internal mammary artery in the chest was considered standard treatment for angina. The thought was that, if you blocked blood flow through the internal mammary artery in the chest, you’d shunt more blood to the heart and relieve the symptoms people experience when they’re not getting enough coronary blood flow. Surgeons performed this procedure for decades, and almost all of the patients experienced improvement in their symptoms. But were they really responding to the ligation of the internal mammary artery? Or were their bodies responding to the belief that the surgery would be helpful?
On a quest to find out the answer, one study compared angina patients who got their internal mammary arteries ligated with patients who underwent a surgical procedure during which an incision was made on the chest wall, but the artery itself was not ligated. What happened? 71% of those subjected to the sham surgery got better, whereas only 67% of those who got the real surgery improved.
10. What you believe affects your life expectancy
Researchers in San Diego examined the death records of almost 30,000 Chinese-Americans and compared them to over 400,000 randomly selected white people. What they found was that Chinese-Americans, but not whites, die significantly earlier than normal (by as much as 5 years) if they have a combination of disease and birth year which Chinese astrology and Chinese medicine consider ill-fated.
The researchers found that the more strongly the Chinese-Americans attached to traditional Chinese traditions, the earlier they died. When they examined the data, they concluded that the reduction in life expectancy could not be explained by genetic factors, the lifestyle choices or behavior of the patient, the skill of the doctor, or any other variable.
Why did the Chinese-Americans die younger? The researchers concluded that they die younger not because they have Chinese genes, but because they have Chinese beliefs. They believe they will die younger because the stars have hexed them. And their negative belief manifests as a shorter life.
11. Generosity is potent medicine
After 9 heart surgeries, Andy Mackie’s doctors had him on 15 medications, but the side effects made him miserable. So he decided to stop all his medications and spend his remaining days feeling as good as he could. His doctors said he would die within a year, so Andy decided to do something he had always wanted to do. He decided to use the money he would have spent on his heart medicines to buy 300 harmonicas for children, with lessons. And when he didn’t die the next month, he bought a few hundred more. Thirteen years and 20,000 harmonicas later, Andy Mackie finally passed away.
12. The mind affects hair growth
Thirty percent of patients who thought they were getting chemotherapy but were actually getting nothing but saline lost their hair. And bald men in the Rogaine trials who were getting nothing but sugar pills grew hair. Go figure.
Still Not Convinced? I have zero attachment to converting skeptics of mind-body medicine into believers. I’m just a curious scientist who can’t ignore the evidence that the mind is more powerful that we yet understand. If you’re curious like me, read more evidence of the mind’s power to heal the body in Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself or watch my Public Television special Heal Yourself: Mind Over Medicine (watch the trailer and check listings here.
What do you believe about the mind’s ability to heal the body?