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1st Jan

2018

Mind-Body Connection: Scientific Evidence of How Thoughts and Emotions Affect Our Biology and Wellness

For my long-term readers, you know that I always look for new intriguing research, which can have a profound impact on our health and wellness. At times, this requires us to think “outside the box”. I recently had the pleasure to listen to a renowned neuropsychologist, Mario Martinez, PsyD, on the topic named “the Mind-Body Code”. One reason why I found this material fascinating, is that much of it is based on credible scientific research, in particular on the effect of emotion and thinking on immune function, and consequently on your overall health (including musculoskeletal), wellness and longevity. Dr. Martinez also shows how medical anthropology plays an important role in shaping our wellness, i.e. the effect of culture around the world, on our health.

Research has revealed that approximately 60% of all illness is chronic illness, and most is preventable. According to studies, genetics account for 25% at the most, in the development of illness. This is also supported by studies of centenarians, those who live to be at least 100 years old, who most often do not have a strong family history of longevity. However, they have many personality traits in common, and overall outlook on life, which I will discuss more later.

Dr. Martinez explains the field of psychoimmunology, and how thoughts and emotions, some latent and dating back to early in life, affect your immune system, and therefor biology and wellness, and ability to heal. He strongly believes, that every illness has a component of self-deprecation , or feeling of unworthiness, but also stresses that there often are many other unrelated components involved. He also shows how deeply rooted cultural beliefs and rules, across the globe often perpetuate or strengthen such feelings of unworthiness, and have created “an epidemic of fear of joy”, as he puts it. Such cultural influence goes as far back as Greek mythology, and is often passed down from generation to generation, without our awareness of it.

Research studies have shown that situations where we feel shamed, or embarrassed or of less importance, increase pro-inflammatory markers in the blood. The immune system other words reacts the same to such “emotional wounds”, as if we had a physical wound to heal. Similarly, in other studies, simply watching empowering, or spiritual movies resulted in measurable increase in biomarkers of improved immune function, whereas those who watched movies showing lack of compassion and of hatred, created biomarkers in the blood which indicated weakened immunity. Furthermore, in the first group, subgroups of people who had more positive outlooks on life, had much longer lasting blood sample improvements after having watched the movie, than subgroups of people who saw life more negatively.

Studies on centenarians are quite fascinating. This is reportedly the fastest growing population segment across the globe. When interviewed and analyzed, a number of common factors and personality traits have been found: They usually do not have chronic illness, and often die peacefully in their sleep, or due to injury. They live life based on joy versus deprivation. They often have no strong genetic history of longevity. They do not go to the doctor very often, but when they do, they want to take an active role in their treatment (Dr. Martinez stresses that he is simply reporting facts, and not recommending people not to see their physicians). They don’t think about aging, and often see themselves as being much younger than they are. They stay active in society and don’t “retire”. They usually have a good sense of humor, and are somewhat rebellious and “negotiators in life”. They are often spiritual but not necessarily religious, but believe that there is something bigger than themselves. Fifty percent live alone independently. They are optimistic, with an absence of envy. They forgive easily. They feel loved. They are inspiring to others. They eat a balanced diet low in protein and high in complex carbohydrates, but there are no vegans and few vegetarians, while also not being heavy meat eaters. They have high self-esteem. The incidence of cancer is very low. Their cognitive function is typically very good, and does not correlate with the degree of brain deterioration seen post-mortem (also shown in studies with old active nuns; i.e. no direct correlation between old age and developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease). They are very moderate in indulgences but often enjoy rituals associated with joy, such as having a daily glass of wine (or even puffing on a cigar!). They tend to heal quickly after surgery, and need less medications than most people younger than themselves. Finally, they live in a subculture where their wisdom is appreciated and respected, often by people younger in age.

Dr. Martinez uses centenarians as examples of how biocognition, as he terms it, can affect health and wellness, but also illness in other populations who are different. The more we can :”live life as a centenarian”, the better for our health, he suggests. The studies on centenarians certainly disprove many myths we have about people who have grown old.

Dr. Martinez discusses how emotional wounds often are created early in life, and become “frozen in time”. This discussion, is beyond the scope of this newsletter, but I believe is valuable information for most of us. In a nutshell, his treatment includes identifying such emotional wounds and recognizing what they physically do to your body (he calls such physical signs “biosignatures”), then with the help of relaxation techniques and visualization, create a mental healing field and self-commit to take action to change. He ends with methods of forgivingness. Again, I will not go into details on this process, which is not a quick fix, and for many people is best accomplished with professional help. However, I believe that most people could benefit from this method, or similar methods, which include effective forms of relaxation, visualization and meditation, to not only make us feel better about ourselves, and have a positive effect on others around us, but also thereby improve our biological health and well being.

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