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Newsletters: Volume 1 No. 4

Keep Up! (Or Change the Station Quickly?)

The phrase of the '90's was the slogan of Nike: Do It! As I worked on this newsletter, reviewing the many advances in science and technology- sometimes taken back by the speed at which information moves today, it occurred to me that the phrase of this decade will undoubtedly be: Keep Up! Then I thought, "Yes, but there are many things that I do not wish to keep pace with." I'm not interested in being sold sickness or other expectations that are not in my chosen best interest. So I don't think I want to keep up with the advertisements, television commercials, and so forth. I'm also not interested in keeping pace with the desensitization going on in the media with regard to drive related stimuli such as violence; but then, I've covered this in earlier newsletters (see specifically Child Violence: http://www.innertalk.com/newsletter/childviolence0899.html ). This newsletter will focus on wellness and our expectation regarding longevity and health, especially as it is impacted by SIT.

SIT is the acronym for Sickness Information Theory, a pet hypothesis of mine. The basic tenant of this hypothesis asserts that sickness is often suggested by an authority in such a way as to create a sort of reverse placebo effect. That is, typically a placebo suggests a positive direction in health, where as in this usage it refers to a negative direction. The more SI (sickness information) one intakes, the more likely that information is to impact one's belief and expectation. This modified, shall we even say, so called informed, belief and expectation impacts health and longevity. As we'll see, this impact can be very negative.

Placebos are very powerful and not fully understood. A colleague, Dr. Joseph Albini, once told me of a clinical study designed to test the efficacy of a new drug. Terminal patients were enrolled in the study and divided into groups. A placebo group was used in those days, although this is considered unethical by most today. One of the patients told Joe repeatedly that he knew he was in the experimental group because he was improving each day. The medical evidence supported his claims of improvement. The subject was actually in the placebo group. Despite the patient's remarkable apparent recovery, he died very shortly after being debriefed--informed that he was actually in the placebo group.

Several recent studies have repeatedly illustrated the power of placebo care. Indeed, a recent study reported in Science News resulted in an almost dead even heat when a placebo was compared over one year with lithium and valproate treatments as prescribed for patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder. (Vol. 157, 351).

Guy Sapirstein of the University of Connecticut evaluated the placebo influence on depressed patients taking antidepressants and concluded, "What we expect really does affect how we feel." (Listening to Prozac but Hearing Placebo, APA Presentation, 8/12/96--see APA Journals link at end of article).

Wellness is often a state of mind! Sickness is often a closed sale. The pitch may go something like this, "Watch out--the dreaded gomboo is coming! It's gomboo time (cold season, flu season, etc.) and it will get most Americans. Get your Xquid now, and rest well, watch a little television, enjoy being pampered, take some deserved time off from work, Xquid to the rescue! Now the actual language is obviously exaggerated, but the images, particularly the television images, portray the words if they are not actually said. What's wrong with this scenario?

Years ago I read of a study that was designed to demonstrate the influence of television on brain wave activity. Young children were connected to simple eeg bio-feedback instrumentation. The equipment would announce a tone when brain wave patterns became predominantly alpha wave in nature (alpha is the twilight zone between fully awake and asleep--often associated with altered states of consciousness such as hypnosis). All of the children in the experiment entered altered states of consciousness despite rewards designed to keep them from falling into alpha states.

According to Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, Director of the Center of Bioethics, University of Minnesota, drug marketing directly to consumers accounted for $1.3 billion of the advertising budget spent by pharmaceutical companies in 1998, more than double that spent in 1996. In Kahn's words, these "glitzy ads..may seem logical for a culture that has come to expect overstated claims for products and advertising pitches that rely on sex appeal, but for some it's going to far. "

Dr. Kahn is kinder than I when it comes to the images paired with ads. He puts it this way, "Pharmaceutical advertising combines medical information for the lay public with images of a healthy and carefree lifestyle. There are photos of smiling, vital people and colorful hot air balloons.." He questions whether or not drugs should be marketed like "cars, beer and shampoo?" (08/09/99 http://www.cnn.com/HEALTH/bioethics/9908/drug.marketing/).

A recent headline in Psychology Today read, "ADHD For Sale." The article by Eben Carle sighted the research of psychologist, Gretchen LeFever, who showed that "nearly 20% of the young and privileged are on Ritalin..on any given day in affluent Virginia Beach. Her research, published originally in the American Journal of Public Health, "found that while 3% to 5% of U.S. Elementary-school children have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, almost six times as many fifth-graders in Virginia Beach take medication for it, a number she says is typical in wealthy U.S. communities." She claims that parents turn to Ritalin to force children to "pay attention." However, there is another advantage as author Eben Carle notes in the words of Yale Professor Robert Sternberg, "Once kids are labeled learning disabled, there are so many benefits--extra help, extra time on tests such as the SAT--that people are fighting for the label." (June, 2000, p.17).

In the January issue of Science News a headline caught my eye, "Mass illness tied to contagious fear." In a scenario that reads somewhat like a good mystery novel, a teacher notes a gasoline like smell in her classroom. She soon complains of headaches, dizziness, nausea and shortness of breath. Not long after several of her students complain of the same symptoms. The school is evacuated and emergency personnel search the premises. The local emergency room admitted 19 faculty members and 80 students, hospitalizing 38 overnight. Five days later the school is reopened and the emergency room treats yet another 71 individuals complaining of symptoms attributed to their exposure to some toxic gas. A research team led by Dr. Timothy F. Jones failed to turn up any toxic substance in the school or the blood of those reporting to the emergency room. Indeed, blood and urine specimens obtained at the hospital contained no toxic substances whatsoever. Exhaustive testing failed to identify any reason for the illness outbreak. On November 12th, 1999, in McMinnville, Tennessee, an outbreak of "mass psychogenic illness" occurred. Such phenomena have been "noted for centuries and probably occur more commonly than assumed by many researchers," said a member of Jones' team. Still, in the words of Dr. Simon Wessely of Guy's, King's and St. Thomas' School of medicine in London, "even though the McMinnville students responded to contagious anxiety, they experienced authentic pain and suffering." (Vol. 157, p. 37).

We have many modern examples of "mass psychogenic illness." There are numerous scientific studies showing the power the mind has to influence the body, including the influence of altered states of suggestibility, such as that produced in hypnosis. The hypnotist suggests a burn while placing an ice cube on the subject's arm, and a blister results.

It's very hard to get people in the pharmaceutical area to give straight answers to the influence their advertising may have on suggesting/creating illness. One person I spoke with acknowledged that their ads seemed to be timed perfectly with the arrival of illness because the sale of drugs dramatically escalated with advertising campaigns. A little common sense suggests that the ads must sell more drugs or the advertising budget wouldn't be so dramatically increasing.

Where is the line between information and selling? Marketing experts devise advertising campaigns around our motives, conscious and unconscious. Our so-called need to escape, our need for attention, our need to be pampered, our desire to take a break, etc., etc., can be the motive behind illness. These transparent "needs" are exactly what most seasonal pharmaceutical ads target. In my book, "Wellness: Just A State of Mind," I made the point that many dis-eases are chosen, albeit unconsciously. The stage frightened singer becomes ill with a sore throat while the stage frightened dancer suffers a sprained ankle. The seeming coincidence of the affliction with the escape afforded by it is no coincidence at all. Indeed, I believe it's fair to look for a "gain" that results from illness every time we're interested in "why" me?

In my book, "Thinking Without Thinking," I covered what is still a seminal study in my mind regarding the expectation/belief factor and health and longevity. David Phillips at the University of California, San Diego, evaluated the beliefs of individuals associated with death. His study compared Oriental people born under a rising sign (astrological sign), which allegedly provided them with certain resistances and weaknesses in relationship to various diseases such as cancer or cardiac difficulties, with caucasians born under the same sign but without the same belief. His statistical findings clearly demonstrated that belief influences the outcome of certain diseases and can lead to early death. In other words, if you believe you're going to die of cancer, the data suggests you will. If you don't, in all likely hood, you won't. (1994, The LANCET, 342: 1142-1145).


I intend to do my best to keep up with all of the wonderful new technologies. I also intend to ignore all of the non-sense. I'll train my thumb to outrun the SIT commercials and so-called "health watches" found in so many news programs by flicking channels. What do you think? Write me and we'll post your comments behind this newsletter.

Be well and happy! Eldon

Here are some links, the first a master site of many links, to further your own investigation of this subject:








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