The medical establishment has been proving that the mind can heal the body for over 50 years. We call it “the placebo effect,” and we know that when patients in clinical trials get nothing but sugar pills, saline injections, or fake surgeries, but believe they might be getting the new wonder drug or miracle surgery, their bodies get better 18-80% of the time.
While many are aware of the seemingly mysterious placebo effect, fewer people know about its evil twin, “the nocebo effect.” When I was researching my book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself, I became convinced, without a shadow of a doubt, that a combination of positive belief and the nurturing care of the right healer can activate the body’s natural self-repair mechanisms and help the body heal itself.
But was the opposite also true? Do negative beliefs about our health or harsh care from insensitive doctors harm the body?
Turns out they can.
Harmful Beliefs Poison Your Body
As reported in an article in The Lancet, 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 superstitions, 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 patients, the skill of the doctors, or any other variable.
As a health-conscious person, you’re already in the loop about the importance of eating your veggies, skipping the booze, cigarettes, and fake foods, daily exercise, plenty of zzzzz’s, and regular check-ups. But as a physician fascinated by why some health nuts still suffer from chronic illness, I dug deep into the medical literature to study what else really makes us healthy - and what predisposes us to illness.
What I found shocked me. What I discovered was certainly never introduced to me in medical school. As I wrote about in my upcoming book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself and as discussed in my latest TEDx talk, the scientific data proves that there are ten key habits that lead to optimal health. (I’ll bet your doctor never wrote these on a prescription pad!)
Alleviate loneliness. The Italian immigrants of Roseto, Pennsylvania ate meatballs fried in lard, gorged on pasta, and smoked, but they had half the risk of heart disease as the rest of the country. Why? Researchers concluded that it was because they lived communally, celebrated regularly, and had a huge network of friends. Dinner party, anyone?
Couple up. A UCLA study reviewed census data and found that those who never marry are 58% more likely to die at a young age than those who exchange vows. But only healthy marriages count if you’re seeking optimal health. Studies show that, when it comes to health, you’re better off alone than stuck in a toxic relationship.
Get it on. Those with healthy, happy sex lives live longer, have a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, get less breast cancer, bolster their immune systems, sleep better, appear more youthful, enjoy improved fitness, have enhanced fertility, get relief from chronic pain, experience fewer migraines, suffer from less depression, and enjoy an improved quality of life.
Engage in work you love. Those stuck in soul-sucking jobs are at greater risk for sudden death. In Japan, they call it “karoshi” - death by overwork. But it’s not just the Japanese who are at risk. Studies suggest Americans are at even greater risk of sudden death from heart disease and stroke due to overwork. If work is stressing you out, you may be shortening your life. However, when you’ve found your calling and are doing what you love, your nervous system relaxes, and this flips on your body’s natural self-healing mechanisms.