Some Scientific Support for Energy Healing
In order to provide scientific validation for the human energy field, theorists and practitioners have attempted to perform scientifically sound, replicable experiments to measure and quantify the field. Researchers have also unified the theories of energy medicine with data from scientific fields to develop hypotheses to explain the observed phenomena. They have examined factors including electrical emissions, magnetic fields, temperature effects, and even infrasonic sound. It’s clear there are strong correlations between these factors and the theoretical aspects of the human energy field. It is not yet clear if all of the aspects of qi can be measured in these terms.
The notes below are merely a sampling of the research that has been done and theories that have developed, and are not meant to be a comprehensive review of the topic. For more information, please refer to the sources mentioned at the end of this section.
Are there any fields produced in and around the body which can be measured?
“Every event in the body, either normal or pathological, [produces] electrical changes, it also produces alterations of the magnetic fields in the spaces around the body.” (Oschman, 18)
Several illustrations of this appear in Oschman’s Energy Medicine. For example, in the 1930’s, Harold Saxton Burr reported “the timing of ovulation in women could be determined by daily measurements of the electric field between one finger from each hand.” (Oschman, 18-19) Other researchers had inconsistent results in studying this field. This was because the ovulation cycle is only one of many oscillating electric fields produced by the body, and “detection of the ovulation cycle requires careful filtering, to eliminate interference from the electrical rhythms generated by the other organs in the body, such as the heart and the brain.” (Oschman, 19)
In 1924, Willem Einthoven received a Nobel Prize for his discovery that heart electricity could be recorded with a galvanometer; the electrocardiogram and electroencephalogram are now standard tools for medical diagnosis. (Oschman, 28) In 1963, Baule and McFee were able to measure the magnetic field produced by the electrical activity of the heart muscle. This strong pulsating magnetic field spreads out in front of and behind the body, and instruments are now available that can detect the field of the heart 15 feet away from the body. (Oschman, 29-30)
Brain fields are hundreds of times weaker than the heart, yet they are measurable by a SQUID magnetometer, developed in the 1970’s. Virtually all the tissues in the body generate electrical fields when compressed and stretched. “Every muscle in the body produces magnetic pulses when it contracts, … any movement of any part of the body is ‘broadcast’ into the space around the body as a precise ‘biomagnetic signature’ of that movement.” (Oschman, 35)
Are these fields a mere by-product of life processes, or do they serve a purpose?
“The electric fields produced during movements are widely considered to provide the information that directs the activities of ‘generative’ cells… these are the osteoblasts, myoblasts, perivascular cells, fibroblasts, and other ‘stem’ cells that lay down or resorb collagen and thereby reform tissues so they can adapt to the ways the body is used.” (Oschman, 54)
These repair messages are apparently carried by the perineural cells, connective tissues which encase every nerve fiber in the body and are responsible for overall regulation of the classical nervous system. “Robert Becker, M.D. … demonstrated that the perineural cells, or nerve sheaths, carry a direct current of electricity, prompting the body to grow, heal, or regenerate and repair itself. For this reason, any change in health is always accompanied by electrical changes, both at the site of injury or repair and as an electromagnetic field around the body.” (Cohen, 45)
“The perineural system is a direct current communication system reaching to every innervated tissue… the current of injury is generated at the site of a wound, and continues until repair is complete… [it] attracts the mobile skin cells, white blood cells, and fibroblasts that close and heal the wounds. Finally, the injury current changes as the tissue heals, and therefore feeds back information on the progress of repair to surrounding tissues.” (Oschman, 94) Other bodily tissues are also sheathed in continuous layers of connective tissue, therefore it is possible that “a current of injury will arise in any tissue, epidermal, vascular, muscular, nervous, or bone, that is injured.” (Oschman, 95)
Can this “current of injury” be replicated by synthetic devices?
A modern medical technique called pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF) is used to treat bone fractures which have failed to heal after several months. A small, battery-operated pulse generator is placed next to the injury for 8-10 hours per day, and produces a magnetic field that induces currents to flow in nearby tissues, and “jumpstarts” a stalled healing process. “The scientific evidence is that PEMF therapy is effective because it conveys ‘information’ that triggers specific repair activities within the body. The currents… mimic the natural electrical activities created within bones during movements. Pulsing magnetic fields initiate a cascade of activities, from the cell membrane to the nucleus and on to the gene level…” (Oschman, 75)
Various electrical frequencies are being tested to determine the types of tissue they affect. Sisken and Walker found that 2 Hz is associated with nerve regeneration, 7 Hz with bone growth, 10 Hz with ligament healing, 15, 20, and 72 Hz with stimulation of capillary formation, and 25 and 50 Hz with synergistic effects with nerve growth factor. (Cited at Oschman, 76 and 86)
Can healers produce fields which can be measured?
Electrical and Magnetic Measurements. During qi gong, the electrical conductivity of acupuncture points changes dramatically. (Cohen, 45) Within experimentally designed copper room; qi gong practitioners’ electrical body potential had frequent surges ranging from 4 volts to 221 volts: 10,000 times larger than EKG voltages produced by a human heart. (Cohen, 49)
In the 1980’s, Dr. John Zimmerman used a SQUID detector (designed to study human biomagnetic fields) to study fields produced by a Therapeutic Touch practitioner during a healing session in a magnetically shielded room. A biomagnetic field emanated from the practitioner’s hand, pulsing at a variable frequency, ranging from .3 to 30 Hz, with most of the activity in the range of 7-8 Hz. The field was so strong that it was outside of the calibrated range of the SQUID magnetometer, so signal strength could not be quantified.
A study by Seto in Japan confirmed “a large biomagnetic field emanates from the hands of practitioners of a variety of healing and martial arts techniques, including QiGong, yoga, meditation, Zen, etc. The fields were measured with a simple magnetometer consisting of two 80,000 turn coils and a sensitive amplifier. The fields had a strength of about 10-3 gauss, which is about 1000 times stronger than the strongest human biomagnetic fields (from the heart)… about 1,000,000 times stronger than the fields produced by the brain… As in Zimmerman’s study, the biomagnetic field pulsed with a variable frequency centered around 8-10 Hz.” (Oschman, 79)
These studies did not document that any clinical healing took place; however, “the evidence shows that practitioners can emit powerful pulsing biomagnetic fields in the same frequency range that biomedical researchers have identified for jump starting healing of soft and hard tissue injuries. This implies that biomagnetism is one form of the elusive Qi...” (Oschman, 80)
Brain wave activity in healers. Robert C. Beck has used EEG recordings to study brain wave activity in ‘healers’ from all over the world: psychics, shamans, faith healers, a Hawaiian kahuna, practitioners of wicca, etc. All these healers produced similar brain wave patterns when they were … performing a healing… all healers registered brain wave activity averaging about 7.8-8.0 cycles/second… Beck performed additional studies on some of the subjects and found that during healing moments their brain waves became phase and frequency synchronized with the earth’s geoelectric micropulsations – the Schumann resonance.” (Oschman, 107)
Temperature: During energy healing, it is common for the client to describe a sensation of intense heat coming from the practitioner’s hands, even if the practitioner’s hands feel cool to the touch. Therefore, some studies have examined temperature effects. Oschman states that “research shows that masters of the QiGong technique can project measurable amounts of heat from their palms… that increases cell growth, DNA and protein synthesis, and cell respiration. Practitioners can also produce ‘inhibiting’ Qi, in which infrared energy is absorbed from the environment. This kind of Qi slows metabolism.” (Oschman, 82)
In 1988, Ogawa et al used an infrared color thermograph to measure skin temperature of two qigong masters and volunteer recipients. Skin temperatures elevated within 3-4 minutes after the masters began ‘emitting qi’, with temperatures rising as much as 4º C. Occasionally, the skin temperature of the recipient’s palm became higher than that of the master’s fingertips. (Abstract in Cohen, summarized in Benor, page 211) It is possible that this temperature rise is a significant factor in energy healing, it may be a side-effect of subtle energy transmission, or it may merely be a result of dilation of capillaries in the healer and healee.
Pavek wanted to prove that the effects in SHEN therapy were due to something other than heat transfer, so he conducted an experiment where temperature sensors were placed at four points, with 3” thick foam cushions to insulate subject from practitioner. Initially, the temperature of the sending hand raised several degrees (partially due to being placed between two foam insulators.) The temperature then leveled out (time A). Then, after several minutes (at B), the subject released a mild myoclonic jerk and breath rate slowed. Ten seconds later (C), the temperature reading at subject’s stomach began to rise. Finally, fifteen seconds after the temperature rise at her stomach (D), temperature at the receiving hand began to rise rapidly, increasing almost a degree before leveling out. “The most exciting reading was from the third probe… the reading on this gauge never changed, but remained constant throughout the experiment. This proves conclusively that the field effect is some medium other than heat or infrared radiation.” (Pavek, 59)
Infrasonic Sound. Researchers in China report that infrasonic sound may be a factor in healing effects of external qi gong. “Lu Yan Fang… recorded infrasonic sound emitted from the hands of qigong masters during external qi healings. She was able to produce healing effects with synthetic infrasonic sound at similar frequencies, reporting benefits for pain, circulatory disturbances, and depression.” (Benor, 214) Xin Niu’s 1988 study looked at infrasonic waves emanated from 27 qigong masters when they were emitting qi, and from control subjects. There were statistically significant differences between groups, including exceptionally high-intensity infrasonic emissions from the more seasoned masters. In a 1988 controlled study by Xueyen Peng and Guolong Liu, healthy subjects were exposed to either emitted qi or infrasonic sound. “Intensity of the qi was measured at more than 70 dB, the infrasonic sound instrument could generate sound in the range of 60 dB to 90 dB… In changes similar to those produced by medication, the amplitude of most SEP waves (somatosensory evoked potential) changed significantly (p <.01)… suggests that infrasonic sound produced from the healer may be an active force in bringing about changes in nervous system activity. However, there is no evidence in this study that infrasonic sound in itself is able to bring about changes similar to healing. It would also be of great interest to clarify how the healer emits the infrasonic sound.” (Benor, 214-215)
How do external fields influence our internal rhythms?
The brain’s pacemaker / free run periods. Brain waves spread out through the body via the perineural system, regulating the activity of the entire nervous system. Brain waves are not constant in frequency, but vary from moment to moment. Research is examining the cellular basis of the rhythms. “Calcium ions slowly leak into single thalamocortical neurons, which oscillate for 1.5-28 seconds, triggering and entraining the brain waves… eventually the thalamic oscillations cease because of the excess calcium built up in the thalamocortical neurons. During this ‘silent phase’, lasting from 5 to 25 seconds, the brain waves are said to ‘free-run.’ It is probably during this phase that the brain waves are susceptible to entrainment by external fields.” (Oschman, 96)
Resonance / Entrainment. “Any object has a certain natural or resonant frequency… when two objects have similar natural frequencies, they can interact without touching, their vibrations can become coupled or entrained.” (Oschman, 123) (The most common example of this principle is that if there are two guitars in the same room, and a chord is played on one, the strings on the other guitar will vibrate in sympathetic resonance.) Evidence of the ability of human systems to synchronize is clear in the following study: In 1994 and 1996, Russek and Schwartz studied pairs of subjects sitting in the same room, sitting quietly with eyes closed, not touching each other. The EKG and EEG rhythms indicated that their heart and brain rhythms synchronized, and the synchronization could be enhanced if they were connected electrically by a wire held in the left hand of one person and the right hand of the other. “If there is entrainment of rhythms in two individuals who are not touching, what can we expect from commonly used [hands-on] therapeutic situations?” (Oschman, 109)
Geomagnetic fields. “The Schumann resonance is a unique electromagnetic phenomenon created by the sum of lightning activity around the world. Electromagnetic pulses from lightning travel around the earth, bouncing back and forth between the ionosphere and the earth’s surface. At any given point on the earth, the Schumann resonance shows up as electrical and magnetic micropulsations in the range of 1-40 Hz.” (Oschman, 99) There is evidence (though controversial) that geomagnetic rhythms serve as a cue for physiological rhythms. “There is evidence that geomagnetic pulsations strongly entrain brain waves during meditation and other practices in which one ‘quiets the mind’ to allow the ‘free-run’ periods to be dominated by geophysical rhythms.” (Oschman, 102) Oschman hypothesizes that “if the therapist relaxes into the state of consciousness typical of those who practice meditation, therapeutic touch and QiGong… it is likely that his or her brain waves will, from time to time, become entrained with the micropulsations of the earth’s field. If the patient is also relaxed, both therapist and patient may become entrained with the earth’s field.” (Oschman, 107)
How are energetic messages carried throughout our bodies?
Vibration / Coherence. “Every molecule in the body, and every homeopathic, herbal, or aromatherapy preparation, vibrates in specific ways and emits a characteristic energy spectrum… Because of resonant interactions… nearby molecules interact with each other via electromagnetic fields… [those interactions] repeated by the millions of molecules within a cell membrane, tendon, muscle, bone, nerve cell, or other structure, give rise to huge coherent or laser-like vibrations… Crystalline components of the living matrix act as coherent molecular ‘antennas’, radiating and receiving signals.” (Oschman, 128-131)
Herbert Fröhlich states “An assembly of cells, as in a tissue or organ, will have certain collective frequencies that regulate important processes, such as cell division. Normally these control frequencies will be very stable. If, for some reason, a cell shifts its frequency, entraining signals from neighboring cells will tend to reinstall the correct frequency. However, if a sufficient number of cells get out-of-step, the strength of the system’s collective vibrations can decrease to the point where stability is lost. Loss of coherence can lead to disease or disorder.” (Quoted in Oschman, page 135)
The body as an interconnected matrix. “Modern cell biology has recognized that the cell interior is virtually filled with fibers and tubes and filaments, collectively called the cytoskeleton or cytoplasmic matrix. Likewise, the nucleus contains a nuclear matrix that supports the genetic material. Linkers called integrins extend across the cell surface, connecting the cytoskeleton with the extracellular matrix.” (Oschman, 46) “The living matrix is a continuous and dynamic ‘supramolecular’ webwork, extending into every nook and cranny of the body: a nuclear matrix within a cellular matrix within a connective tissue matrix. In essence, when you touch a human body, you are touching a continuously interconnected system, composed of virtually all the molecules in the body linked together…” (Oschman, 48)
Oschman hypothesizes that “every part of the body… form[s] a continuously interconnected semiconductor electronic network. Each component of the organism, even the smallest part, is immersed in, and generates, a constant stream of vibratory information… Complete health corresponds to total interconnection. Accumulated physical and/or emotional trauma impair the connections. When this happens, the body’s defense and repair systems become impaired and disease has a chance to take hold. Acupuncture and other energy therapies restore and balance the vibratory circuitry, with obvious and profound benefits.” (Oschman, 71)
Research evidence clearly indicates the presence of electrical signals in the body, which create magnetic fields. It appears that these fields are able to stimulate an injury repair process within the body, whose messages are carried through the perineural system and the connective tissue matrix. One mechanism involved in this is coherence: the synchronization of the vibrations of various cells of the body. These ideas are clearly correlated with the theoretical precepts about the human energy field.
Mainstream medicine accepts that if the internal injury repair fails, as in the case of a bone that does not heal for several months, electrically generated fields can jumpstart the healing process. It appears that healers are able to generate signals similar to these artificial fields, as well as producing thermal effects and sounds. It is possible that these are the mechanisms by which energy healers “jump-start” the client’s energy systems and initiate a healing process. The concepts of entrainment and the evidence supporting synchronization of brain waves with other people and with geomagnetic rhythms may explain the mechanisms which energy theory describes as resonance and re-structuring during energy healing.
Does Energy Healing Work: Some Observations from Attempts to Measure the Effects of Energy Medicine
Again, this is just a sampling of research that has been done, and is not meant to be a full evaluation of the available research or a full evaluation of the effects of energy medicine. See Benor’s Spiritual Healing for an excellent review of a large number of scientific studies on distance healing and intercessory prayer as well as laying-on-hands energy healing.
Benor’s summary states “Out of 191 controlled experiments on healing, 83 (43.4%) demonstrate effects at statistically significant levels that could occur by chance only one time in a hundred or less (p<.01); and another 41 (21.5 percent) at levels that could occur between two and five times out of a hundred (p < .02 - .05). In other words, close to two thirds (64.9%) of all the experiments demonstrate significant effects.” (Benor, 371) If he includes only the studies which met high standards for experimental design, then 76% demonstrate significant effect.
Benor also comments on a meta-analysis of healing studies in the June 6, 2000 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, assessing the effects of distant healing (prayer, non-contact Therapeutic Touch, and other types of distant healing) in a series of studies (Astin et al). Literature reviews revealed 100 studies. Strict inclusion criteria required random assignment of study participants; placebo, sham, or otherwise “patient-blindable” or adequate control interventions; publication in peer-reviewed journals; clinical rather than experimental studies; and that the study be on human subjects with any medical condition. Of the 23 studies that met their inclusion criteria (including 2774 participants), 13 (57 percent) demonstrated positive treatment effects, 9 (39 percent) showed no effect, and 1 (4 percent) had a negative effect. (Benor, 375)
Some Sample Studies
Healing effects on plant growth. In a controlled study in the 1960’s, Bernard Grad used saline solutions to water barley seeds. (Salt is a known inhibitor of plant growth.) Oskar Estebany, a healer, “treated” a flask of salt water. After several weeks, the barley seeds that had been watered with healer-treated saline sprouted more frequently and produced taller, leafier plants with higher levels of chlorophyll, at statistically significant levels.
Grad later used the same protocol with magnetically-treated water, which had even more vigorous growth-stimulating effects than the healer-treated water. This indicated some similarity between energy healing effects and magnetic effects.
Using the same protocol, he asked depressed patients from a psychiatric hospital to “treat” bottles of saline. This water depressed the growth of plants. Except for one depressed patient, who asked why Grad wanted her to hold the bottle of salt water. When told the purpose of the experiment, she “became elated… and cradled it in her arms as if it were a newborn baby.” Her water produced accelerated seed germination and plant growth compared to the untreated control, indicating that intentionality may affect results. (Gerber, 370-3)
Benor cites several well-designed studies which explore the effects of thought and/or healing intention on the cellular level. Pleass and Dey (1985) found that participants could effect the motility of algae in test tube culture, with highly significant results. Nash (1982) tested whether subjects not known to be psychically gifted could accelerate or decelerate bacterial growth; growth was greater in promoted tubes than in control or inhibited tubes (p<.05); and greater in promoted than inhibited (p<.001). Braud et al (1979) attempted to decrease the rate of hemolysis of human red blood cells that were being stressed by being placed in dilute saline. He “imagined” them intact and resistant to the saline. Results were highly significant (p<.00096), indicating that the cell membranes of the red blood cell may be strengthened by healing. (Benor)
Measurable Results in Healing of Wounds or Illness
Wound Healing. Surgical wounds were created on healthy subjects. Active and control treatments were daily five-minute sessions of exposure to a hidden Therapeutic Touch practitioner or to sham exposure. Treated subjects experienced a significant acceleration in the rate of wound healing at day 8. At day 16, 13 of 23 treated subjects were completely healed vs. 0 of 21 control subjects. (Daniel P. Wirth, “The Effect of Non-contact Therapeutic Touch on the Healing Rate of Full Thickness Dermal Wounds”. Subtle Energy, vol. 6, number 1, 1990.)
Skin Cancer. Fahrion (1995) studied 10 subjects with basal cell carcinoma. Well-known healers Mietek Wirkus and Ethel Lombardi gave healing for 30 minutes every other day for five days, healing done with hands 1-2 inches from body. Four patients showed tumor reduction or elimination, confirmed by photographs. One patient had had hundreds of tumors removed in the past; healing stopped his recurrences. Healing was shown to be cost-effective: average cost per tumor treated was $160 versus $195 for surgical treatment. Other advantages: absence of pain, other side effects and scarring, and improvements in co-existing conditions. (Benor, 409)
Cancer Patients’ Responses to Healing Touch. The Cancer Wellness Center sent surveys to 92 participants and received 43 responses. Summaries of participants' responses to HT treatments: Improved relaxation, 98%; Improved sense of control, 75%; Positive change in energy, 87%; Improved interpersonal relationships, 63%; Improved sense of well-being, 92%; Decreased pain, 85%; Decreased side effects of cancer treatments, 77%. (Judy Brannon, “A Patient Satisfaction Survey for Cancer Patients Experiencing Healing Touch at the Cancer Wellness Center. “)
Some common questions
Phantom limb pain is a phenomenon experienced by most people who are missing limbs. Allopathic medical interventions have had minimal effects on phantom pain sensations. In Leskowitz’ study, three case vignettes are presented, in which a modification of Therapeutic Touch successfully alters patient perception of phantom pain. Most strikingly, these patients are able to perceive non-contact energy interventions on their phantom limb, despite the absence of relevant portions of their nervous system. (Eric Leskowitz, “Phantom Limb Pain: Subtle Energy Perspectives.” Subtle Energy, vol. 7, number 3.)
Are results due to “placebo effect” based on patient beliefs or practitioner’s influence?
Numerous studies on plants, animals, and isolated cells have shown effects of healing, when clearly there is no influence from patient beliefs. Numerous studies on human subjects have attempted to control for this (e.g. with mock therapeutic touch), and appear to indicate that this “placebo” treatment does not have the same effects as the true healing intervention.
Are effects attributable to the mere presence of a caring person?
McAdams examined Healing Touch in comparison to Presence in critically ill patients. Findings indicated that there was a significant difference for diastolic blood pressure for the group who received HT first as compared to the subjects who received Presence first. When the descriptive data were reviewed there was a tendency for the cardiovascular outcomes to show the greatest decrease for the intervention of HT as compared to Presence. (Kathleen McAdams, “The Effects of Healing Touch on Cardiovascular and Oxygenation Variables in Critically Ill Patients.)
Some places to review more healing research:
- The Qigong Database™ has bibliographic references for over 1000 qigong science abstracts from journals and conference proceedings. Can be ordered at www.qigonginstitute.org
- Healing Research, volume 1, Spiritual Healing by Daniel Benor, MD. Reviews over 200 controlled studies of healing. www.WholisticHealingResearch.com A partial bibliography is at http://www.wholistichealingresearch.com/Research/RschTop.htm
- Abstracts on research into Healing Touch and other modalities is available on-line at http://www.healingtouch.net/research/survey/parti.shtml
- Abstracts from Subtle Energies Journal, published by ISSSEEM (International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine) are at http://www.issseem.org/journal.htm
- In Energy Medicine, Oschman has a thorough discussion of his theoretical basis for energy medicine, and the scientific support for this theory.