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Tiffany Matthé

The Mind-Body Connection

Mindset2 min read

The connection between mind and body has often been studied in terms of our fight-or-flight response. However, there is much more to this connection than simply responding to threats of survival. How we think and interpret the world can directly affect our body's health. In a way, we can "think" ourselves into, or out of, physical health.

For example, studies on meditation have shown that by practicing to have a clear and alert mind, the healing of our bodies is accelerated. In 1998, the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts1 found that mindfulness meditation increased the rate of skin clearing in patients with psoriasis, a skin disorder that causes skin to build up in red patches.

Another study in 2003 found that those who practiced mindfulness meditation had more antibodies in their blood after a vaccination than those who did not meditate2.

That's insane.

Apart from meditation, placebos also have interesting effects on our mind to body response. Mainly used to maintain control groups in drug studies, placebos can sometimes incur the same physiological effects as the real treatment, indicating that the mind must play some role in physical health.

The procedure around placebos influences patients to believe they are being treated properly. This confidence in being healed affects how the brain modulates symptoms, like the perception of pain, headaches, nausea, etc. This also means that placebos only work well for medical illnesses where psychological factors are important. It won't cure cancer.

On the flip side, there is the nocebo effect, where negative thinking can literally cause treatment to have a more negative effect than usual. Although the solution might be simple (i.e. lie about the negative risks of a treatment), the dilemma lies in informed consent: healthcare professionals cannot withhold information or lie to their patients3.

Conversion disorder is another example of how negative thinking plays a huge role in health. Although conversion disorder is a mental condition, it has real physical effects on the body, which can cause blindness, paralysis, and other neurological symptoms. What's even more interesting is that it depends on the patient's own understanding of anatomy. The more they don't know about how their bodies are supposed to work, the more implausible their symptoms are. Although the cause is not well understood, it is believed that those with conversion disorder have parts of the brain with more restricted blood flow. This highlights a real connection between our thoughts and our bodies.

In short, physical health is not solely based on how much we exercise and what we eat. How we think can play a major role. This serves as yet another reason why thinking positively is far more than delusion and useless.

Being mindful can change your life.

  1. Kabat-Zinn J, Wheeler E, Light T, Skillings A, Scharf MJ, Cropley TG, Hosmer D, Bernhard JD. Influence of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention on rates of skin clearing in patients with moderate to severe psoriasis undergoing phototherapy (UVB) and photochemotherapy (PUVA). Psychosom Med. 1998 Sep-Oct;60(5):625-32. doi: 10.1097/00006842-199809000-00020. PMID: 9773769.
  2. Davidson RJ, Kabat-Zinn J, Schumacher J, Rosenkranz M, Muller D, Santorelli SF, Urbanowski F, Harrington A, Bonus K, Sheridan JF. Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosom Med. 2003 Jul-Aug;65(4):564-70. doi: 10.1097/01.psy.0000077505.67574.e3. PMID: 12883106.
  3. Häuser W, Hansen E, Enck P. Nocebo phenomena in medicine: their relevance in everyday clinical practice. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2012;109(26):459-465. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2012.0459.

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