The Link between Religion and Health: Psychoneuroimmunology and the Faith Factor

The Link between Religion and Health: Psychoneuroimmunology and the Faith Factor

The Link between Religion and Health: Psychoneuroimmunology and the Faith Factor

The Link between Religion and Health: Psychoneuroimmunology and the Faith Factor

Synopsis

This book is the first to present new medical research establishing a connection between religion and health and to examine the implications for Eastern and Western religious traditions and for society and culture. The distinguished list of contributors examine a series of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) topics that relate to religious faith and behavior. PNI studies the relationships between mental states and the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. Among the issues it focuses upon are how mental states, in general, and belief states, in particular, affect physical health. The contributors argue that religious involvement and belief can affect certain neuroendocrine and immune mechanisms, and that these mechanisms, in turn, positively affect a wide variety of health outcomes, such as susceptibility to cancer and recovery following surgery. This volume is essential reading for those interested in the relationship between religion and health.

Excerpt

Psychoneuroimmunology and the Faith Factor—what an interesting subtitle and combination of concepts for a book! Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is the study of the relationship between the mind, the immune system, and health. Eleven chapters of this book discuss various aspects of PNI. They suggest that when the brain perceives an event as unpleasant or stress evoking, specific areas of the brain are activated, which initiate the release of hormones from nerve terminals in lymphoid tissue, while other hormones associated with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis are released into plasma. If the cells that comprise the immune system have receptors for these hormones, the activity of the immune cells may be modified. The summative effect of the multiple hormones that bind to receptors will either increase or decrease the function of a cell. Depending on the biological function of the cells whose function is altered, the activity of the immune system will be modified. The clinical and epidemiological data presented in chapters 5 through 11 suggest that the net effect is decreased immune system function and increased susceptibility to those diseases in which the immune system is related to the disease etiology, pathogenesis, or both.

The obvious intent of this book, as implied by the title, is to suggest that faith may affect the quality of health through pathways being defined by research in the science of PNI. What could be the basis of the relationship? It is unlikely that faith can modify hormone receptors. It is more likely that faith can affect the concentration of hormones released by nerve terminals and produced by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. How? If faith can ameliorate the activation of the brain areas involved with activation of the nerves and release of the hormones associated with altered immune function, a more efficient and effective immune system would result, with decreased development of immune-related disease.

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