Debra Chew: Is The Power Of Suggestion Making You Sick?

Friday, June 5, 2015 - by Debra Chew

Living in any one of the three largest cities in Tennessee could make you sick.  Well…so says the recently released Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America Asthma Capitals 2015 report.  In fact, it calls Memphis the Asthma Capital and Chattanooga the 8th most challenging city in the U.S. for people with asthma. 

When I read statistics like this, it makes me want to ask: Is it the environment or the suggestion of sickness that actually makes people sick? 

I say this because I used to be a chronic asthmatic.  When I was growing up, anything I breathed in or smelled would bring on an attack.  I carried a fast-acting inhaler to alleviate the symptoms but I was never totally free of the symptoms or the fear of them. Since then, I’ve become convinced that the condition itself was the result of what I’d been taught about my environment and my health.  

Health researchers are learning more every day about the impact suggestion has on our health.   Pamela Dalton, senior scientist at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia believes people with asthma are probably more at risk of being hyper-vigilant all the time – to the point where just thinking about a “dangerous” odor in the environment can bring on an asthma attack.  

Dalton studies how people react to the odors in their environments – and she has found that most people are highly influenced by suggestion.  In one study, two groups of people were given the same thing to smell but different information on what it was.  After 15 minutes of smelling the odor, the group that thought they were smelling a chemical reported feeling sick. The group that thought they were smelling a plant felt relaxed and even rejuvenated.  Is the power of suggestion that strong? 

Let’s investigate that further - in another interesting study by Dalton, seventeen people with chronic moderate asthma were divided into two groups.  Both were given the same pure rose scent to smell for 15 minutes.  One group was told it could help them breathe better….the other was told it might cause breathing problems.  What happened? 

You guessed it.  The “breathe better” group liked the smell and had no reaction, including no inflammation.  The “might cause problems” group said it made them feel sick and caused inflammation in their airways, lasting for 24 hours.   

As a result of her own research, observations and study of the Bible, Christian healer Mary Baker Eddy took an opposite view to the medical establishment of her day and ours when it comes to beliefs about the impact on our health of the environment around us. Because the Bible said God created all and saw that it was good, Eddy reasoned that each creation in the universe must exist in harmony with all other creations -thus, harmless to each other. 

Concerning allergies and asthma, she said, “What an abuse of natural beauty to say that a rose, the smile of God, can produce suffering.  The joy of its presence, its beauty and fragrance, should uplift the thought, and dissuade any sense of fear or fever.  It is profane to fancy that the perfume of clover and the breath of new-mown hay can cause glandular inflammation, sneezing, and nasal pangs.” (Science and Health) 

Eddy’s quote gave me a lot to think during a time when I began to reframe how I viewed myself, my environment and illnesses.  It didn’t make sense to me either that God would create something beautiful and fragrant in the universe that could potentially be so harmful to my health. Like those in Dalton’s study, I could see that, I had come to believe the atmosphere and smells in the Ohio Valley (and later in Tennessee) were making me susceptible to asthma. When my focus naturally shifted to seeing the infinite goodness and beauty of God’s creation all around me, my body’s reaction to the environment began to lessen.   

This quote from the Bible was also helpful to me: (Job 33) “For the spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” The more I turned to the Divine in prayer about this condition, the less afraid of a sudden asthma attack I became.  Soon, I was no longer suffering.  

After all, how could the ‘breath of the Almighty’ be interrupted by grass, flowers, hay, etc.? 

Studies in the power of suggestion to create or worsen illness offer those who suffer from asthma (and other illnesses) a glimpse into why it’s important to be aware of what we accept into our thinking. The next step, I learned, is to reason it through spiritually. When we do that, it won’t matter which city in Tennessee we live in. We’ll be free to breathe the breath of the Almighty.  


Debra writes about the connection between thought, spirituality and wellness from a Christian Science perspective.  She has been published in the chattanoogan.com, The Jackson Sun, UK Health Triangle Magazine, Jackson Sun Health Magazine, and in the Memphis Commercial Appeal.  She is the media and legislative liaison for Christian Science in TN.


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