Most ancient healing practices, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, emphasize the links between the mind and the body. Western medical views were shaped by systems of thought that emphasized the opposite -- the mind and body are separate.
In 1964, psychiatrist George Solomon noticed that people with rheumatoid arthritis got worse when they were depressed. He began to investigate the impact emotions had on inflammation and the immune system in general. The new field was called psychoneuroimmunology ("psycho" for psychology; "neuro" for neurology, or nervous system; and "immunology" for immunity).
In the 1960s and early 1970s, a physician named Herbert Benson, who coined the term "relaxation response," studied how meditation could affect blood pressure. More understanding of the mindbody link came in 1975, when psychologist Robert Ader showed that mental and emotional cues could affect the immune system.
Today, there is renewed interest in age-old traditions such as yoga and meditation. No longer viewed with suspicion, mind-body programs are now established at prestigious medical schools in the United States and around the world.
Neuroplasticity [is] the ability of the nervous system to change its structure and function.
Recent neuroplasticity studies have shown that pain is associated with a host of functional, anatomical and chemical changes at many levels of the nervous system. Findings regarding the complexity of pain processing, including neuroplasticity, show that the experience of pain engages an entire orchestra of pathophysiology. This means that the best chance of success in treating pain occurs when assessment and treatment address these many factors. For example, treating persistent low back pain means not just trying to determine which structures in the back may be contributing to pain – it also means identifying any psychological factors that may alter the responsiveness of the nervous system and amplify incoming signals. ... These findings provide reasons for hope.
Neuroplasticity is dependent on pain rather than the other way around ... the findings provide us with a much better understanding of the role of psychological factors in pain and the potential for treatment.
Cognitive and emotional processes strongly engage brain and spinal cord pathways that are directly involved in altering the responsiveness of pain pathways. By doing so, psychological factors influence neuroplastic processes and thus directly modify the pain experience.
Psychological interventions... [are] ...an important and effective option for relieving pain.
Neuroplasticity research has opened our eyes to a whole new world of mechanisms underlying pain and given us a greater appreciation of the complex interaction between the mind and the body.
Excerpted from: MJA 198(4), 4 March 2013, Philip J Siddall, Pain Medicine Physician and Professor in Pain Medicine, Sydney NSW
The key to any mindbody technique is to "train" the mind to focus on the body without distraction. In this state of "focused concentration," a person may be able to improve their health. Some of the most commonly techniques include:
Biofeedback: With biofeedback, people are trained to control certain bodily processes that normally occur involuntarily, such as heart rate or blood pressure. These processes can be measured and displayed on a monitor that the person watches. The monitor provides feedback about the internal workings of your body. You can then use this display to gain control over these "involuntary" activities -- lowering your blood pressure, for example. Biofeedback is effective for a number of conditions, but it is most often used to treat tension headache, migraine headache, and chronic pain.
Cognitive behavioral therapy: This technique is used to help people recognize and change harmful thoughts. For example, people with phobias might deliberately expose themselves, under the direction and guidance of a therapist, to what they are afraid of. Or people who are depressed can learn to counter negative thoughts and feelings with positive ones.
Relaxation techniques: There are three major types of relaxation techniques:
While phrases such as "mind over matter" have been around for years, only recently have scientists found solid evidence that mindbody techniques actually do fight disease and promote health. In 1989, for example, a clinical study by David Spiegel, M.D. at Stanford University School of Medicine demonstrated the power of the mind to heal. Of 86 women with late-stage breast cancer, half received standard medical care while the other half received standard care plus weekly support sessions. In these sessions, the women were able to share both their grief and their triumphs. Spiegel discovered that the women who participated in the social support group lived twice as long as the women who did not. A similar clinical study in 1999 showed that in breast cancer patients, helplessness and hopelessness are associated with lesser chance of survival.
Other clinical studies also show how meditation affects mood and symptoms in people with different conditions (such as high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, and cancer). It also improves quality of life.
Researchers you are physically or emotionally stressed, your body releases stress hormones that can affect all your systems and organs. For example, stress related to hostility and anxiety can result in disruptions in heart and immune function. Similarly, depression and distress may diminish the body's natural capacity to heal.
Certain emotions have been associated with disease. For example, hostile attitudes may increase your risk for coronary heart disease, obesity (especially around the waist), insulin resistance (which can lead to diabetes), and abnormal cholesterol (specifically, high triglycerides and low levels of high density lipoprotein or HDL -- the good kind of cholesterol).
There is no evidence that negative emotions actually cause disease. But research shows that being stressed and having negative emotions can be unhealthy. One study found that unconsciously being defensive or stifling feelings may result in medical consequences, such as high blood pressure. High blood pressure is also associated with feelings of hopelessness. How a person deals with emotions may also affect how long they survive with a chronic illness.
The goal of mindbody techniques is to get the body and mind to relax and to reduce the levels of stress hormones in the body, so that your immune system is better able to fight off illness.
Mindbody techniques can be helpful for many conditions because they encourage relaxation, improve coping skills, reduce tension and pain, and lessen the need for medication. For example, many mindbody techniques are used along with medication to treat pain. Symptoms of anxiety and depression also respond well to mindbody techniques.
Mindbody techniques may help treat many different diseases, including:
In an analysis of mind-body studies, researchers found that cognitive behavioral therapy is the most long-lasting treatment for tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Relaxation techniques, hypnosis, and biofeedback also helped. Some researchers believe that chronic fatigue syndrome, which affects the immune system, can be treated with mindbody medicine.
Mindbody medicine should not make you feel that your attitude is the cause of your illness.
Mindbody medicine is generally very safe and works well when combined with usual medical care. Each mindbody technique may have its own risks and side effects. Talk with your health care provider about any concerns you may have.
Biofeedback: Specialists who provide biofeedback training include psychiatrists and psychologists, nurses, dentists, and physicians. The Association for Applied Psychology and Biofeedback (www.aapb.org) is a good resource for finding qualified biofeedback practitioners.
Relaxation: Many clinics and hospitals around the country have included relaxation techniques in their health care programs. Contact the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Mass. ( www.umassmed.edu/cfm/mbsr) for a list of the health care facilities in 38 states that offer information on and training in relaxation techniques.
Hypnosis: Most hypnotherapists are licensed medical doctors, registered nurses, social workers, or family counselors who have received additional training in hypnotherapy. For example, members of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) must hold a doctorate in medicine, dentistry, podiatry, or psychology, or a master's level degree in nursing, social work, psychology, or marital/family therapy with at least 20 hours of ASCH-approved training in hypnotherapy.
Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specialising in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network
For references see: