What is Health?

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An excerpt from the book Heal

In this age of information we are constantly inundated with bad news, we’re under tremendous pressure to “keep up with the Joneses,” and experiencing a declining connection with the natural rhythms and cycles of the universe. All of these factors lead to enormous emotional stress.

According to a 2016 article in Time magazine, the post- 9/11 generation has been “raised in an era of economic and national insecurity. They’ve never known a time when terrorism and school shootings weren’t the norm. They grew up watching their parents weather a severe recession, and, perhaps most important, they hit puberty at a time when technology and social media were transforming society.”

Incidents of depression and anxiety in teenagers are skyrocketing because of the heartbreaking pressures of social media and an ever-increasing competitive culture to achieve. Social, political and environmental causes are likely implicated in an increase in the number of teens each year who have had a depressive episode — up 37 percent between 2005 and 2014. High school students today have more anxiety symptoms and are twice as likely to see a mental health professional as teens in the 1980s. This is great for drug companies that produce antidepressants and ADHD medication. Not so great for the developing minds and bodies of our children.

Along with the rise of emotional stressors, we are experiencing a parallel rise of chemical stressors in modern society. Due to the bulk and convenience trends in the food industry:

• We are seeing more cheap chemical substitutes and preservatives in our food.

• We are eating out of season, nonlocal food that is often picked in another country and flash-ripened with gas after two weeks in transit to its destination.

• We are consuming genetically modified produce and animal products from animals being fed unnatural diets, hormones and antibiotics, which can have a detrimental effect on whoever consumes them.

According to the Center for Food Safety, “it is estimated that upwards of 75 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves — from soda to soup, crackers to condiments — contain genetically engineered ingredients.” These food-like substances and chemical stresses amount to a detrimental burden on our bodies. Our digestive systems get confused and sick, and our immune systems can’t keep up with their detox, repair and regenerative functions.

Also, in addition to our foods, harmful chemicals in many cleaning and beauty products are disrupting our hormones and adding to the tremendous toxic burden on our bodies. As we move further away from natural ingredients and real food, we move further away from our natural state of health.

As our immune systems become taxed and overwhelmed by the modern onslaught of emotional and chemical stresses, we become more susceptible to bacteria, viruses and other pathogens in our environments. It has become clear that our conveniently plastic-wrapped modern lifestyle is a double-edged sword. So how can we take the best of what science and technology have to offer, yet protect ourselves from the negative side effects of some advancements? The answer is found inside of us.

The Placebo Effect
You may have heard of the placebo effect — a term coined by Dr. Henry Beecher in a 1955 research paper, The Powerful Placebo. You take a sugar pill thinking it’s medicine, and you actually start to feel better. But how does this really work? And how can we harness this Jedi mind trick to improve our own capacity to heal, potentially without the harmful side effects of drugs and medication?

I spoke with Joe Dispenza, who offered a helpful, in-depth explanation of this powerful phenomenon.

“People can accept, believe and surrender to the thought that they’re getting the actual substance or treatment and begin to program their autonomic nervous system to make their own pharmacy of chemicals that matches the exact same chemical they think they’re taking,” he said.

Okay. But how is it that an inert substance causes a healing effect in the body? I wondered.

“The sugar pill, the inert substance, is not doing the healing, so it’s the thought that’s doing the healing,” he said. “In depression studies, as much as 81 percent of the people who are given a placebo respond as well to the placebo as the people taking the antidepressant. So what’s the significance of that? It means they’re making their own pharmacy of antidepressants, and their body, their nervous system, is the greatest pharmacist in the world.”

As Joe explained to me, the placebo effect is based on three things: conditioning, expectation and meaning. First, you give someone a real pill and it takes away their pain. Give them the same pill again, and again, and it takes away their pain. Then you give them a pill, but this time it’s a sugar pill that looks just like the other pill, and because they’ve been conditioned by the repetition, their body begins to make the same chemicals that make them feel better.

The second thing that influences the placebo effect is one’s expectation. You begin to expect something to occur from a medication or treatment, and the moment you select that potential, that possibility in your future, your body begins to physiologically change in preparation for the event. You can say to a person in a placebo study, “We’re going to give you a drug,” and if the doctor’s enthusiastic, it actually works better to take away your pain. If the doctor is enthusiastic and the patient begins to expect their pain to go away, the patient begins to make their own morphine.

The third element of a placebo is assigning meaning. If you say, “Hey, you know, here’s your receptors on the end of your nerve cells and serotonin has to be picked up in the synaptic space. This chemical keeps serotonin there so it’ll remove depression.” You’re looking at the charts and assigning meaning to why you’re taking this pill, so you’ll produce a better result.

The more you know about the way something works, the deeper its meaning for you.

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