Monday, October 1, 2012

You Know What They Say About An Apple a Day

On the value of memes in health and medicine
Have you been struck as often as I have at the number of times some gee-whiz science headline confirms common sense?

It fascinates me how often we refuse to believe the fruits of our own experience until some study confirms it. I will spare you a long list of links,  but it's happened so often I have a standing personal hashtag attached to that topic in my archives.

I still remember a study years ago about the value of chicken soup for colds. It seemed so silly at the time. Heck, if soup makes you feel better, drink it. What's wrong with a little placebo effect among family and friends? I don't need statistics to feel OK about correlating that soup with a less stuffy head.

That said, with today's perspective on mind and brain I do have to grant that Aunt Ida may have been more right than she knew when she cooked up that soup, and I'm not talking about killing microbes with noodles.

All those years ago, it is unlikely Aunt Ida or those study designers considered the curative value of the well-turned meme.

Just hearing the phrase "chicken soup" or "apple a day" may, in fact, help keep the doctor away. Somewhere in your psyche, those terms have long been linked with well-being.

Such phrases work in our minds like the topic tags in my shorthand notes. They stand for a network of nested meanings. That mental shorthand may also be a convenient proxy for what is actually happening in our heads.

Belief unleashes a domino chain of benefits as you relax and quit fretting, already feeling more confident. Just the smell of that soup may be enough to unleash a gush of immune-boosting cytokines in what then becomes a literally self-fulfilling prophecy.

Thus might the right meme at the right time also produce a biological impact.

I only wish thinking of 'lower cholesterol' did the same thing.