VOICES Voices Icon Ideas and Insight From Explorers


Do Planets Make You Sick?

As a professional skeptic, I’d be hard pressed to trust a doctor who thinks my right ankle aches because my ruling planet Jupiter is in retrograde.


Image courtesy NASA

But that’s just me, and medical astrology—a fairly common diagnostic tool during medieval times—is still alive and kicking in several parts of the world.

In fact, doctors at a university in Delhi, India, are about to complete a five-year study of local people’s medical histories that they say links the positions of the planets to people’s health.

The Hindustan Times reported last week that the university’s department of medical astrology found in almost 75 percent of the cases analyzed, there is a strong correlation between planet-based predictions of a disease occurring at a specific time and its onset.

The government-funded work was reportedly done with a grant for 3.2 million Indian rupees, or about 70,000 U.S. dollars.

Even with the latest research papers from top-flight journals, I’m always a fan of the old axiom “correlation is not causality.” That’s just logic, right? I frequently get sick when I visit family in Texas, but that doesn’t mean I’m allergic to the Lone Star State. Plane rides, stress of travel, and exposure to small children might all play their role.

Still, it’s fascinating—no matter what you believe—to look at these ancient systems of thought and trace the connections between planets, zodiac signs, and the human body that can seem only natural.


Folio 14v: Anatomical Man, Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry

Musée Condé, Chantilly (public domain)

The bright, life-giving sun, for example, is associated with the heart and overall vitality. Mercury, a name also bestowed on a toxic heavy metal that has neurological effects, relates to the brain and central nervous system.

Sadly for lovers of historical irony, Uranus has nothing to do with the digestive system.

It makes me wonder how modern practitioners of medical astrology are dealing with the still-raging debate over Pluto’s status as a nonplanet. I guess if an unusual number of people at the IAU come down with pancreas issues, they’ll know they only have themselves to blame.