Psycho-neuro immunology

We’ve always known that there’s a connection between the body and the mind – if indeed they are separate at all. But for hundreds of years Western medicine ignored – even denied – this connection. But since the 1980s all this has changed thanks to the relatively new science of Psycho-Neuro Immunology or PNI. The term ‘psychoneuroimmunology’ was coined in 1975 by two researchers at New York’s University of Rochester, psychologist Robert Adey and Nicholas Cohen, an immunologist.

PNI researchers study the interactions between the nervous system and immune systems and the relationships between mental processes and health. They look for the exact mechanisms by which specific brain-immunity effects are achieved. And they’re finding them – tiny contacts which connect the nerves of the brain directly to the immune system through the nervous system. This is physical, biochemical proof that our thoughts and emotions are communicated straight to the immune system.

Science is telling us that the central nervous system extends to every cell in the body via chemical receptors and neurotransmitters. It no longer makes sense to think in terms of the traditional mind-body split.

The evidence exists at several biological levels. The immune system and the brain – the two major biological adaptive systems of the body – talk to each other through signalling pathways during an immune response. Two major pathway systems are involved in this cross-talk: the hypothalmic-pituitary-adrenal axis) and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). This process is essential for maintaining equilibrium.

Their preliminary research showed that a signal via the nervous system affected immune function in rats. In 1981 Dr David Felten discovered a network of nerves in humans leading to blood vessels as well as cells of the immune system. This discovery provided one of the first indications of how neuro-immune interaction occurs. Ader, Cohen and Felten went on to edit the groundbreaking book Psychoneuroimmunology in 1981, which presented the evidence that the brain and immune system represent a single, integrated system of defence.

In 1985, neuropharmacologist Dr Candace Pert showed that neuropeptides and neurotransmitters act directly upon the immune system in close association with emotions, and suggested mechanisms through which emotions and immunology are interdependent. Showing that the immune and endocrine systems are modulated not only by the brain but also by the central nervous system has had an enormous impact on how we understand emotions, as well as disease.

PNI has continued to develop. There is now sufficient data to conclude that psychological and social factors such as stress lead to actual health changes by altering the immune function. The strongest evidence is in the areas of wounds and infections and evidence across other health conditions and diseases is growing.

Influencing the body using the mind

Following the success of two global best sellers, ‘Cosmic Ordering’[1] and ‘The Secret’[2], there’s been a great deal of discussion in the media about an ancient spiritual Law commonly called the Law of Attraction. It is enshrined in Buddhism, Taoism and both the Vedic and Hebrew scriptures. King Solomon is quoted, ‘For as <a man> thinketh in his heart, so is he,’[3] a message reiterated in the New Testament.

At first glance the impression given by these modern versions is that you can eradicate disease, enjoy perfect health, acquire massive riches and perform miracles just by asking the ‘universe’ for what you want and believing without question that it’s already yours. Let the universe take care of the details. When the time is right, you will receive exactly what you asked for.

In the context of healing, of course, nothing is ever that simple. Sure, the same universe that makes a person unwell also has the means to cure them. When the right causes are laid, the right effects surely follow.

The problem is, we are never in control of all the causes. Some, yes. Others, no. You can eat nothing but the right foods, exercise, regularly detox, control your thoughts by denying illness and affirming health, constantly assure yourself that you are fit and well, young and healthy, and still contract a seriously illness or die in an accident or terrorist attack. The physical and mental disciplines you follow will massively increase your chances of good health, but they can’t guarantee it.

Give yourself the best chance. Adopt a positive, cheerful frame of mind. ‘See’ yourself happy and kind. Adopt sensible habits. PNI shows that this is the best way of enjoying optimum health and dying young at a great age!

[1] Barbara Mohr, The Cosmic Ordering Service, Mobius, 2006, ISBN 978-0340933329

[2] Rhonda Byrne, The Secret,  Simon and Schuster, 2006, ISBN 978-0340933329

[3] Proverbs 23: 7 KJV


©Feelinggoodallthetime, 23.3.2017

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The Mind-Body Connection

We’ve always known that there’s a connection between the body and the mind – if indeed they are separate at all. For instance, anxious feelings can give rise to headaches, loss of appetite and an upset stomach – we’ve all experienced it. Sad thoughts bring on tiredness and lethargy, anger energizes, fear brings tension and can immobilize, and so on.

In contrast, a lover’s glance can send shivers down the spine and make the heart race, a relaxed mood calms the body, and when we’re happy, we feel more alive and have more energy.

Of course, anyone who has ever done a fire walk cannot fail to wonder how a pair of human feet can walk over burning coals without feeling any pain, or how someone can undergo open heart surgery or give birth by caesarean section under hypnosis (with no anaesthetic) and feel no pain. Or why one person reacts to an injury with little pain while another experiences excruciating, unbearable pain from the same injury.

In his book, Love and Survival: The Scientific Basis for the Healing Power of Intimacy[1], Dr Dean Ornish, a respected heart surgeon, gives the following examples of the mind-body connection taken from academic studies:

  • Passive negative emotions like grief and despair, and feelings of loss or failure, throw the auto-immune system out of gear, reduce the body’s natural defences against infections and increase the likelihood of degenerative conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
  • The most dangerous emotions from a health point of view are fear, anger and hostility. Prolonged aggression causes changes in the immune system and autonomic nervous system, increases the heart rate, blood pressure and breathing, tenses the muscles, and raises the level of free fatty acids in the blood – all of which can lead to migraines, hypertension, coronary heart disease and strokes.
  • In one study, researchers found that young people who were beset with anger were seven times more likely to be dead by the age of fifty. Low frustration tolerance is a better predictor of an early death than smoking, high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

We know that a single thought can bring about over a hundred biochemical changes in your body – instantly. Every thought, every emotion, and every change of thought or emotion, affects the body. A sudden fright, a burst of anger, a fit of jealousy all immediately impacts on the body. So do moments of pleasure, feelings of love and contentment, expressions of appreciation, gratitude and joy.

Why, then, did Western doctors once regard the mind-body relationship as relatively unimportant?

Long ago the Chinese, Hebrews, Greeks and many other cultures were well aware that our thoughts impacted on our health. So were Muslim doctors around 1000 CE. Why, then, for several centuries did Western doctors regard the relationship as relatively unimportant? What made them believe that they could fix bodies without taking the mind into account?

The idea that mind and body were quite separate is usually, and perhaps unfairly, attributed to the influence of Rene Descartes (1596 -1650). Then Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) built a model of the universe which dominated the scientific view of the universe for the next 250 years. There was no place in Newtonian science for the mind as non-physical and unseen, although, ironically, his major interest – magic and the occult – certainly did involve the human mind.

This suspicion lasted into our own era. As recently as the 1970s, few reputable doctors argued that our thoughts and emotions had a direct physical effect on the body. Without observable, measurable physical connections between the brain and the body’s immune system and nervous system, they said, the idea that thoughts and unresolved emotional pain can manifest as physical problems was just humbug. There was no concrete evidence, they said, just anecdotes.

But this is rapidly changing. Scientists such as Dr Candace Pert and the founders of PNI (psycho-neuro immunology) have discovered the exact mechanisms by which it functions and how to influence it. Nowadays all doctors are fully aware of the mind-body connection; once again science has finally caught up with the ancients!

[1] Dr Dean Ornish, Love and Survival: The Scientific Basis for the Healing Power of Intimacy, Harper Perennial, 1999, ISBN: 978-0060930202


©FGATT, 1.4.2017

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