Spontaneous Healing: Can Healers Or Sacred Sites Cure Diseases?

In the Whole Health Medicine Institute program that I founded, which is enrolling for the Class of 2020 now (learn more and enroll here), we teach doctors and others who are interested how to help patients optimize their likelihood of becoming what Harvard doctor and CURED author Jeffrey Rediger, MD calls “health outliers.” Health outliers are those who have better than expected outcomes from “incurable” or “terminal” illnesses, those who shock their doctors and defy the statistics by getting well when typical doctors think they shouldn’t, people with physical or mental illness who conventional medicine has given up on or deemed to be beyond help, people we treat with chronic medication, give up on because we don’t know how to help, or write off as “terminal.”

The problem is that most doctors—and therefore, most patients—are not doing everything within their power to optimize their chances of becoming one of those health outliers. Those of us at the Whole Health Medicine Institute, including Jeff Rediger, MD, who is new to our faculty this year, are trying to educate and help transform both health care providers and the patients who are ready to implement these transformational changes for themselves.


In Part 1 and Part 2 of my blogs reviewing Harvard doctor and spontaneous healing researcher Jeffrey Rediger, MD’s new book CURED: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Remission, I shared the first two practical self-help friendly steps you might take if you or someone you love is hoping to become one of the “health outliers” Dr. Rediger studies, those whose health outcomes have exceeded their prognosis or been cured from an incurable or terminal illness. In this blog, we’ll explore what he uncovered about the effect of faith healers and sites of healing among the health outliers he researched.

CURED Tip #3 Seek Out A Master Healer

While some of the cases of spontaneous healing Dr. Rediger studied never got near a faith healer, some sought out faith healers like the physician and healer Dr. Issam Nemeh, who Jeff met when they both appeared on an episode of The Dr. Oz Show. Although he is a medical doctor, Dr. Nemeh does not do surgery or prescribe drugs. Instead, he lays hands on people like Patricia Kaine, MD, the medical doctor who came to him as a patient. Patricia was given the lethal diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, which was cured after her visits to see Dr. Nemeh. Did faith heal her? Was Dr. Nemeh a channel for Divine healing energy, as many believed? I understand why Jeff keeps his academic credibility solid by refusing to take a solid stand on what he believes or make any attempt to explain the many cases of spontaneous healing stemming from Dr. Nemeh’s office in Cleveland. I didn’t dare to tread anywhere near this territory in my treatment of similar material in my research for Mind Over Medicine, in part because I was too baffled to know how to address the issue and in part, because I was afraid I’d wind up on Quackwatch.com or, even worse, I’d lose the trust of those I most wanted to reach—my fellow doctors, the ones with the power to help raise awareness of this research in ways that might actually save lives with their patients.

In my situation, it felt a bit dodgy to just skirt the issue entirely, so I respect Jeff for daring to take a stab at examining the issue, even though he fails to give us any insight into what he actually thinks, feels, or believes about faith healing or energy healing. I don’t fault him for this, but I have been privy to private conversations with Jeff, and the gist of those conversations has been his humble confession, the words doctors are typically reluctant to admit—“Hell if I know.”

What he does disclose publicly in CURED is that he had a bad back before he traveled to Cleveland to visit Dr. Nemeh. He didn’t tell Dr. Nemeh about his bad back. Dr. Nemeh simply looked at him and said, “You’ve got a back problem.” The doctor/healer took a “look” at his back and assessed that something was out of alignment. Then he prayed briefly and put his hands on Jeff’s back. Jeff reported, “When he placed his hands on my back, it suddenly felt very warm and pliable as rubbers. He moved something into place—or it felt like he did—and the pain was gone. For the rest of the day, I kept expecting it to return, but it never did. Years later, it still hasn’t.”

Hopefully, that one confession will not win Jeff a place on Quackwatch.com. Why should it? How can a very personal, direct experience make you less credible as a scientist? As a scientist who has had mysterious experiences myself, I can tell you that you can’t unsee, unknow, or un-experience things that have happened directly to you. As Larry Dossey, MD, says, “It’s a white crow experience.” People might tell you all crows are black, but if you’ve seen even one white crow, you know all crows are not black, and it’s hard not to go seeking out other white crows so you don’t feel crazy.

Fortunately for us, Jeff didn’t run screaming in the other direction, the way some doctors might. Instead, he assessed Dr. Nemeh’s practice as one of the “hotbeds of healing” and decided to research Dr. Nemeh’s patients in a methodical manner, using his rigorous standards, reviewing medical records, and collating the findings with the stories of people who claim to have been cured by whatever “energy” Dr. Nemeh “channels.” Their stories, which are detailed in Jeff’s book CURED, are worth examining, especially if you don’t believe faith healing is “real.”

Jeff isn’t the only one curious about Dr. Nemeh. In a series of TV shows, Dr. Oz interviewed Dr. Nemeh, Jeff, and many of the patients who claimed to be cured after visiting Dr. Nemeh. (You can Google search to watch the YouTube clips if you’re curious.) His chapter on faith healers also includes a rigorous assessment of the scientific studies examining the power of prayer. Prayer has been studied extensively, but the results are messy and unclear and possibly impossible to study with the limitations of the scientific method, given the ineffable nature of consciousness and the variations that cannot be measured in prayers and those who pray. For example, are all prayers created equal? Does God listen more to some people than others? Have some practiced focusing their consciousness with the intention to heal the way monks spend 100,000 meditating? We know from fMRI studies that a beginning meditator is not meditating as “effectively” as an experienced monk. So what about prayer? Science doesn’t lend itself to measuring whose prayers are “strong” and whose are “weak,” so it’s not easy to measure its efficacy with traditional science. Maybe Dr. Nemeh is better at prayer than the people in my mother’s church who regularly put their attention on those on the church’s prayer list. How would you determine that with the limitations of science?

Limitations aside, many people believe prayer and meditation—both giving it and receiving it—helped them become health outliers. Dr. Patricia Kaine’s story is a must-read, as is Matt Ireland’s, who had a radical remission from glioblastoma multiforme while spending a great deal of time in the “current” room of meditators in a healing center in Brazil. This leads us to the next commonality Jeff found among health outliers.

CURED Tip #4 Journey On An Immune-Boosting Pilgrimage

While he doesn’t take a stand on whether faith healing was actually happening there, Jeff did travel twice to a healing center in Abadiânia, Brazil, where scandal has since taken the spiritualist faith healer João Teixeira de Faria, better known as “John of God,” out of his seat at the center of the Casa de dom Inacio Loyola. Jeff traveled there because, like Dr. Nemeh’s office in Cleveland, Abadiânia seemed to host a hotbed of cases of spontaneous healing. In fact, pilgrimages to places where healing seems to be concentrated appeared as a theme in some health outliers. Jeff theorized, as have I and others before us, that such healing centers may activate the immune system in a variety of ways—through diet, group meditation, shared positive belief, and other factors that might serve as what scientists call “mega-placebo.” Steering clear of potentially triggering or skeptic-baiting territory by failing to hypothesize whether the healer himself—whether he’s corrupt or not—might be facilitating some of the spontaneous healings, Jeff stays in the safe zone of explaining the spontaneous healings that seem to happen at the Casa as resulting from immune-boosting.

While I suspect the explanation may not be as simple as the food, meditations, positive belief, and relaxation-response inducing environment of healing centers, I do agree that “preparing the soil” for immune-boosting seems to be a big part of what makes people more receptive to better than average health outcomes. In other words, diseases like cancer or infection do not appear in otherwise healthy people. The body’s immune system has to be weakened to such a degree that cancer or infection can overcome the body’s natural resistance against disease and take hold. So it makes sense that reversing cancer or infection would require the opposite of immune-weakening. Anything that bolsters the immune system might help cure it.

In my own research, I journeyed to Lourdes, the famous Catholic pilgrimage site reputed to be a hotbed of “miracles,” whose case studies have been collected by doctors over the centuries and rigorously dissected to make sure the healings are not “hysterical”—in other words, caused by placebo effects rather than Divine intervention. (How these Catholic doctors feel confident that they have proven the difference still eludes me.) Nevertheless, Jeff is not the first one to conclude that going on a pilgrimage to a sacred site or a healing center or some other hotbed of spontaneous healings might mean you’re the next miracle. I have a whole chapter on pilgrimage sites in Sacred Medicine, so I won’t get into more detail here. But trust yourself. If you feel like going on a pilgrimage might improve your chances of being the next health outlier Jeff, and I study, GO! Just keep your healthy discernment online, and don’t let yourself become the next person harmed by a person or organization that might be preying on vulnerable, sick people.

READ CURED TIPS Part 1 and Part 2.

Tell Us Your Stories

In the next blog about CURED Tips #5 and #6, I’ll be talking about the link between healing trauma and spontaneous healing, as well as the role of belief in finding cure. If you’re not on my mailing list, sign up here to make sure you don’t miss it.

Read more inspiring stories in CURED: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing or in my book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself.

Do you have a story of spontaneous healing or ideas of what helps make your body ripe for miracles? Share your stories of healing in the comments below.

*Jeffrey Rediger, MD, MDiv is our latest addition to the faculty of the Whole Health Medicine Institute, a program designed to teach and certify doctors, therapists, coaches, and healers how to facilitate Whole Health mind-body-spirit medicine for those who are ready for it. We’re enrolling now for the Class of 2020, and the deadline for early bird bonuses is February 15. Learn more or register here.