Your beliefs are powerful determinants of your health
and well-being. That’s not a metaphysical proposition;
it’s a scientific fact.
Of the scores of studies linking belief to healing, one of
the most provocative examined the spiritual states of AIDS
patients. Gail Ironson, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of
Miami, measured the medical status of AIDS patients by
looking at their viral load (the quantity of the HIV virus in
their blood) and by determining the concentration of white
blood cells (an indication of the body’s ability to fend off
other diseases like pneumonia).
To their astonishment, Ironson’s team found that the
quantity of AIDS virus in the bloodstreams of those who
believed in a punishing God increased three times faster
than those who believed in a benevolent God. Beliefs
predicted whether patients would live or die more strongly
than factors such as having depression, engaging in risky
behavior, or using coping skills.
Many of Ironson’s patients reported a spiritual
transformation subsequent to their diagnosis, a sense
of self that was profoundly changed and that resulted in
different behaviors. Many kicked their habits of street drugs
like cocaine and heroin or their addictions to alcohol and
smoking. Some went through such a transformation only
after hitting rock bottom.
This was true of John, a gay, college-educated, African-
American man in the study. One day, after transcending his
preoccupation with his own suffering to help a drunk man
in distress, John had an out-of-body experience. Here’s how
I felt like I was floating over my body and … I
looked down. I was like this shriveled up prune …
like an old dried skin. And my soul—my spirit—was
over my body. Everything was so separated. I was
just feeling like I was in different dimensions … I
remember saying to God, “I can’t die now because I
haven’t fulfilled my purpose,” and just as I said that,
the spirit and the body became one. It all collided
and … I was a whole person again.
That was really a groundbreaking experience.
Before I became HIV-positive, my faith was so
fear-based. I always wanted to feel that I belonged
somewhere, that I fit in, or that I was loved. What
helped me to overcome the fear of God and the
fear of change was that I realized that no one had
a monopoly on God. I was able to begin to replace
a lot of destructive behavior with a sort of spiritual
desire. I think also what changed was my desire
to get close to God, to love myself, and to really
embrace unconditional love.
By the end of the study, the amount of HIV virus in
John’s blood was undetectable. “If you believe God loves
you, it’s an enormously protective factor, even more
protective than scoring low for depression or high for
optimism,” Ironson summarizes. “A view of a benevolent
God is protective.”
As a researcher and science writer, I’ve been awed at
the volume of research linking our beliefs to our biology.
In addition to white blood cells, beliefs also affect
stem cells, muscle cells, skin cells, and the hormones
that determine how fast we age and how much energy
we have. When you fill your mind with an image of a
benevolent universe and your heart with compassion for
all living things, you’re doing more than basking in the
majesty of creation. You’re sending signals to your cells
that make you healthier and happier.
How science is uniting body, mind, and spirit
Your Beliefs Become Your Biology
HEALING, SCIENCE, AND SPIRITUALITY
DAWSON CHURCH, PH.D., AUTHOR OF
THE UPCOMING MIND TO MATTER (WHICH
HAY HOUSE WILL PUBLISH NEXT YEAR), IS
A GENETIC RESEARCHER AND AN ORDAINED
NEW THOUGHT MINISTER. HE SHARES
SCIENTIFIC BREAKTHROUGHS ON GENETICS AND
SPIRITUALITY AT DAWSONGIFT.COM.