Power of faith in healing
Dr Rohit Shetty
Science has advanced by leaps and bounds since the time we had barber surgeons and very imprecise methods. We now use near histology imaging techniques and advanced molecular analysis to accurately diagnose our patients. We manage them even better with minimally invasive keyhole surgeries, bionic implants, gene and stem cell therapy. However, the number of non-responders to treatment still remains sizeable, despite such staggering advances and highly qualified doctors. There still remains one essential ingredient that is missing – the power of faith. This power derives it roots from a strong patient doctor relationship – one that fosters immense faith and confidence.
It is said that what is known and explainable is science, the rest is religion. However there are numerous scientific reports of incurable diseases being cured by faith healers. A recent article in National Geographic titled “Mind over matter” elucidates this concept. In this write up we try to summarise the existing scientific evidence on how belief can lead to healing.
Health as defined by the WHO in 1948 is a complete state of mental, physical and emotional well being. The cornerstones of health are formed by proper homeostasis of blood flow, regulation of the immune system, clean external factors such as food and environment, balanced flow of energy governed by the three doshas – vata, pitta and kapha and finally our thoughts and attitude. (Fig. 1) These factors are interlinked and an imbalance in one can trigger a domino effect causing dysregulation of the other systems. The reverse also holds true where regulated thoughts and energy can set right the defects in the other systems.
It is believed that an imbalance or dysfunction in one of the above is essential for any form of illness to affect the body. With our current allopathic care we aim to correct the pathologic state at a macro level. Our treatment corrects that which is easily quantifiable by objective means. Often however the imbalances at a quantum level remain unaddressed and continue to plague the doctor and the patient.
Illness triggers anxiety and the release of a variety of toxic chemicals in the body. Anxiety leads to the release of certain neuropeptides like adrenaline and corticosteroids. These cause blood pressure fluctuations and alteration of the immune system. Derangements of cytokines1 in stress is well documented with levels of IL62,3 being raised in particular. Neuropeptide Y is also specifically known to be associated in a multitude of pathologic states related to stress. Stress also leads to negative thought and an imbalance of the three doshas which leads to turbulent energy flow in the body leading to lack of sleep and rest. This lack of sleep acutely affects the natural cleansing mechanisms of the body leading to further build up of toxins. This build up coupled with the earlier weakening of the immune system leads to a gaping vulnerability in the immune system. In such a disease state treatment rarely acheives a 100% outcome thus producing sub par results with such advanced medical knowledge.
It is known that placebos4 offer cure rates almost upto 30% as faith works in miraculous ways to cure the patient. Most of the scientific evidence claims that placebos mainly help in subjective symptoms while hardly any change is seen objectively. However there is a growing body of evidence that claims an improvement in the objective measurements in chronic illnesses like diabetes, hypertension or autoimmunity.
The patient doctor relationship which is believed to be key in the management of the patient plays hero by reversing the above effects. It infuses positive thought, expectation and commitment from the patient. It gives the patient a sense of companionship – a feeling that they are not alone in this journey towards recovery. This positive energy that cannot be quantified works by reducing anxiety and restoring normal physiology in relation to neuropeptides and indirectly blood pressure control and immune mechanisms. The release of endorphins that ameliorate the symptoms and offer immense subjective improvement are an added benefit.
It is thus imperative for us as care givers to treat the patient with a holistic approach. It is our responsibility to influence positive thought and optimism in the patient. In the 20th century technology has been our greatest ally. We may well be entering a new era in the 21st century where the power of faith could be one of most important allies in making the world a happier place for our patients.
- Rohleder N, Aringer M, Boentert M. Role of interleukin-6 in stress, sleep, and fatigue. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2012 Jul;1261:88-96.
- Willenberg HS, Päth G, Vögeli TA, Scherbaum WA, Bornstein SR. Role of interleukin-6 in stress response in normal and tumorous adrenal cells and during chronic inflammation. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2002 Jun;966:304-14.
- Hróbjartsson A, Gøtzsche PC. Is the placebo powerless? An analysis of clinical trials comparing placebo with no treatment. N Engl J Med. 2001 May 24;344(21):1594-602.