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The Secret: Is It the Real Deal?

A theory about the power of positive thinking draws adherents -- and controversy.

The Secret Cure?

Secret teacher John Assaraf, CEO of OneCoach, a San Diego-based consulting firm that helps entrepreneurs and small-business owners increase their profits, says he harnessed the power of The Secret to cure his ulcerative colitis, a debilitating condition marked by inflammation of the colon and diarrhea.

At age 21, Assaraf was taking 20 pills a day, receiving shots of steroids, and undergoing two enemas per day to treat the condition. Frustrated by this regimen, he began to visualize his body as healthy, recite daily affirmations, meditate, and eat a bland diet replete with vitamins and minerals. He even dumped his pills in the ocean.

"In three weeks, my symptoms started to get significantly better, and by five weeks, I was back to normal," recalls Assaraf, who talks about this in the book and movie version of The Secret. "For me, this was a great awakening of the power of the mind and my first real lesson that everything is energy -- and that my thoughts control the energy and vibrations in my body and that all the cells in my body respond to these thoughts," says the author of The Street Kid's Guide to Having It All.

According to Assaraf, our thoughts and environment can reverse and prevent disease despite what is in our genes.

"We all have within us the ability to heal ourselves," he says. "We have an incredible pharmacy in our brain that can produce more potent chemicals than any drug known to man," he says. By contrast, "consistent negative thoughts send consistent negative chemicals into the bloodstream."

Doctors' Views

Not so fast, says Gilbert Ross, MD. He is the executive director and medical director of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), a New York City-based consumer education-public health organization. Sure, "studies show that people that are optimistic do tend to do better than people with a pessimistic outlook. But The Secret doesn't sound kosher to me," he says. "I don't believe it, and there is absolutely no scientific basis for these effects."

"Those who try to convince people who are suffering from various diseases -- most of whom are desperate -- and would link to any offer of hope, no matter how farfetched, are doing a terrible disservice," he says. "One cannot hope a sunny disposition will replace appropriate medical evaluation and care."

Stephen Barrett, MD, a retired psychiatrist in Allentown, Pa., who operates, a web site devoted to exposing quackery and health fraud, agrees with Ross. "There is no evidence that thinking can modify disease other than occasional relaxation exercises," he says. "Thoughts have nothing to do with physics. They are talking about a concept of energy that cannot be measured."

"The energy involved in physics can be measured in a number of different ways," he stresses. "There is nothing real about what they are talking about. They are talking about imaginary energy. The idea of a secret remedy is a classic quack claim."

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