Spirituality & Health

Sheri Kaplan's faith "is unorthodox, but it's central to her life. She was raised Jewish, and although she claims no formal religion now, she prays and meditates every day. She believes God is keeping the HIV virus at bay, and that her faith is the reason she's alive today.

'Everything starts from a thought, and then the thought creates a reaction,' she says. 'And I have the power to control my mind, before it gets to a physical level or an emotional level.'. . .

Gail Ironson is a professor at the University of Miami. Ironson, an AIDS researcher, runs down a battery of questions.

'During this time have you had any HIV- or AIDS-related symptoms?' Ironson asks.

'Nope,' Kaplan says. 'Nothing.'

'What percent of your well-being do you think is due to your own attitudes and behaviors versus medical care?' Ironson continues.

Kaplan laughs: '110 percent.'

Kaplan has never taken medicine, yet the disease has not progressed to AIDS (and she is not part of the population that has a mutation in the CCR5 gene that prevents progression of HIV to AIDS). In the mid-1990s, when having HIV was akin to a death sentence, Ironson noticed a number of patients like Kaplan never got sick. Ironson wanted to know why. And she found something surprising.

'If you ask people what's kept you going so long, what keeps you healthy, often people would say spirituality,' she says. 'It was something that just kept coming up in the interviews, and that's why I decided to look at it.' Ironson calls the finding extraordinary. Ironson was one of the first researchers to connect a patient's approach to God to specific chemical changes in the body." More

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