Thursday, February 10, 2011

Reading Provides Painkiller Substitute

Since [Mackenzie] Bearup, from Alpharetta, Georgia, is in pain almost all the time, she reads a lot. For the past six years, she has suffered from reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), an incurable chronic disease that affects the nerves and blood vessels, causing severe swelling and discomfort in areas of the body that have been the site of injuries.

“Especially when my leg lays me up in bed for days on end, I read constantly to escape from my aching knee, from my room, from the real world,” she says. While previous treatments—painkillers, physiotherapy, acupuncture, hyperbaric oxygen therapy—have failed, the self-prescribed reading cure works. “So far, books have been my only medicine,” Bearup says."

Brain imaging studies provide a glimpse of what happens when we get lost in a book. Using scanning technology, a team of scientists led by Nicole K. Speer at the Dynamic Cognition Laboratory at the University of Washington in St. Louis, Missouri, found that some of the brain regions active during reading a story “mirror those involved when people perform, imagine or observe similar real-world activities.” When reading, our brains simulate what happens in the story, using the same circuits we’d use if the same things happened to us. On a neurological level, we become part of the action.

Bibliotherapy appears to have physiological advantages, too. A 2007 study involving 112 smelter workers in New Brunswick, Canada, for instance, found that workers who read a lot had greater protection against some of the effects of lead poisoning. Both readers and non-readers suffered equally from lead-caused motor impairment, but the non-readers had higher levels of intellectual impairment due to the brain damage the heavy metal can cause. Read the entire article.

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