Traditional medicine has always separated the brain and the body. A medical physician always treated physical ailments, and psychiatrists and psychologists always treated emotional and mental disorders. These two professions rarely communicated, except when specific medications were involved and there might be reactions among them. In more recent times, however, physical and mental health professionals have begun to re-think the separation of the two, based upon some research that has already been completed and much more that still needs to be done. The idea that the brain and one’s thinking can impact physical health is still a new concept, but one that is finding a growing number of proponents in the medical field.
What the Research Currently Says
A summary of mind-body connection research points to the following findings:
Negative emotions and stress, which are mental activities, lower immune systems, and people with these pervasive mental activities have more incident of colds, flu, and other infections.
Certain brain activity, specifically meditation and relaxation, has been found to lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
Certain brain activity, specifically meditation and relaxation, has been found to assist in pain management, pointing to new research areas of thought control of nerve endings.
Hypnosis has been found to be effective in pain management and in lowering blood pressure
Aids patients who have strong religious faith, compassion for others and a sense of inner peace survive longer than those who do not.
Two studies in 1989 and 1999 found that among female breast cancer sufferers, those who were provided additional “treatment” of Yoga and meditation techniques and who participated in emotional support groups, survived longer and responded better to treatment.
Evidence of Injury Recovery
Another body of evidence is now piling up relative to patients who have traumatic injuries and their recovery patterns, based upon their mental attitudes. Those patients who enter therapy and pass through therapy with positive attitudes and a strong mental commitment to recover, do far better. As well, those patients who engage in meditation and relaxation therapies also do better and progress more quickly.
Mind-Body Therapies are Not the Same as Alternative Medicine
While many term mind-body connection as a type of alternative medicine, researchers are quick to point out that there is a significant difference between the two. Alternative medicine relies on homeopathic medicines, so-called natural medicines that are derived from plants and animals. Mind-body “medicine” relates to brain activity and its impact on the physiological systems and functions of the body and is therefore not alternative medicine but an avenue to explore the mind’s ability to influence health.
Non-Medical Proponents of Mind-Body Connection
The power of the mind to control our bodies has been around since ancient times. Hippocrates discussed this often, and most of the religions of the Far East (Buddhism, Shintoism, et. al.), while they worshipped many things, also taught and continue to teach that one’s mind is the key to physical health. Even in the Bible, proponents of this belief point to quotes from Jesus that seem to speak of such a connection. “Be ye renewed by the renewal of your mind,” is one that is often quoted.
As we moved into the 20th and now the 21st century, anyone will find an entire section of a book store filled with the writings of current psychologists, philosophers, physicians, scientists, and theologians who are convinced that the connection is far stronger than medical research has as yet discovered. Anyone who is interested in learning more of what these individuals have to say should begin with a few authors – Dr. Maxwell Maltz, Dr. Wayne Dyer, Depok Chopra, and Eckert Tolle. The power of the mind is also one strong tenet of the Christian Science religion, a faith that holds to the belief that doctors and medicine are unnecessary and, at best, the “slow way to health.” All of these people and faiths believe that, ultimately, medical science will come to understand that all sickness and health is the result of thinking.
The Future for Research in this Field
Harvard University School of Medicine, as well as Stanford and Duke Universities are heavily into such research. In fact, Harvard researchers recently published a study that demonstrated that different brain patterns during times of stress, pleasure, anger, and anxiety actually change the chemical emissions of genes, and some of the very newest research is attempting to link these chemical changes with both the onset of cancers as well as responses to cancer treatments.
The neurobiological field of research is a fascinating one, to be sure. It is worth watching for the results of these newer studies over the next couple of decades.