Health Matters: Psychoneuroimmunology?

By le Cheminant, Jean Macleod | Herizons, July 31, 1992 | Go to article overview

Health Matters: Psychoneuroimmunology?


le Cheminant, Jean Macleod, Herizons


HEALTH MATTERS: Psychoneuroimmunology?.

When women were our only healers, it was understood that mind cannot be separated from body, that how we feel tells us not only about our bodies, but our emotions and spirit as well. During the last century's dark days for the health of women, that connection was all too often used to trivialize our health concerns as "hysterical" "psychosomatic" and "bored housewife syndrome."

Now, at last, some medical practitioners and researchers are taking a closer look at the body/mind connection. Much of the work is led by women like Dr. Candace B. Pert, former Chief of Brain Chemistry, US National Institute of Mental Health, who states flatly, "I can no longer make a strong distinction between the brain and the body."

The there might be some connection between physical illnesses and the mind was first posited in "modern" European thought by William Falconer as long ago as 1796. His ideas were not well received. It wasn't until 1953 that any scientific attention was paid to such a connection at all - and it came about by accident.

Medical researchers testing a drug to see if it would reduce the shock that often follows surgery found, to their surprise, that the drug, when given to patients who happened to be psychotic, alleviated their "mental" disease. What was intended to have purely physical effects was altering a state of mind. ATTITUDE & IMMUNE SYSTEMS

Since those days, a great deal more investigation has gone into the body/mind connection. The relatively new field of medicine with the tongue-twisting name "psychoneuroimmunology" is devoted to investigating the connections between attitude, emotion and the immune system.

Dr. Pert has zeroed in on neuropeptides as the "biochemical units of emotion." They are molecular messengers that can affect the whole metabolism of a cell. Linking nervous, immune and endocrine systems, their action is demonstrably affected by emotion. Pert's work has provided as starting point for numerous investigations of the body/mind connection.

A ten-year follow-up study of women with breast cancer, for example, showed that those who received psychotherapy in groups survived an average of twice as long as those who did not. A study of conflict between spouses and its effect on their health showed that women's blood pressure went up as the comments got mote hurtful or hostile.

Women who exercise regularly are less prone to depression and recover more quickly when it does hot. Similarly, depressed emotions often lead to a depressed immune system and increased susceptibility to colds, viruses, and more serious illnesses. EMPOWERMENT & ILLNESS.

Many of the studies undertaken on how our thoughts and emotions affect our health are showing that much hinges on our sense of personal power or, more to the point, powerlessness.

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