Can your mind help your body keep your New Year's resolutions? Mounting evidence
The evolving field of psycho-neuroimmunology, or the study of the mind-body
connection - often considered fringe beliefs - could help you keep your
resolutions. This intriguing subject of scientific inquiry is still shrouded in
Just as an experiment, put aside your skepticism, pretend that these ideas could
be explained by science, and consider how you could harness their power to
promote your health.
When new medications are tested, one group gets the new medication and another
group gets the *sugar pill* or placebo. Why do this? Study after study shows
that if you think you're taking real medicine, your body will respond as if it
actually did get the active ingredient, even if it's a sugar pill. Somehow the
belief in the power of the medicine creates the desired outcome of lowered blood
pressure or heart rate or weight loss in about a third of people. Is this
science? Yes. Is this mind-body medicine? Yes.
Let your beliefs help your body achieve your desired goals. If regular exercise
is your goal, tell yourself, *I'm invigorated by my daily 20 minute walk.* The
placebo effect suggests that your belief that you have more energy with regular
exercise makes it so.
In November 1998, a teacher noticed a *gasoline-like* smell in her classroom,
and soon thereafter she had a headache, nausea and dizziness. Given the concern
about a toxic environmental substance, the school was evacuated and closed for 5
days. Almost 200 students and teachers were seen in the ER for similar symptoms.
But no environmental cause was ever identified. One explanation is that the
belief that a toxic exposure occurred led to the symptoms, or the nocebo effect.
This is the flip side of the placebo effect.
I reflected on this study as I was waiting with my son for his turn in the
dental chair. He repeated, *It's going to hurt; it's going to hurt.* I suggested
to him that he might be better served by saying, *It's going to be fine; it's
going to be fine.*
Has the nocebo effect undermined your New Year's resolutions in the past? Barry
saw this in action last March as he told himself,*I hate to exercise.* He made a
commitment to daily walks in January and talked himself out of them before the
winter snow melted.
Harness the power of the placebo effect and minimize the nocebo effect this
year, even if your resolution is something challenging like smoking cessation.
In years past you might have told yourself, *This never works. I'll never be a
non-smoker.* Consider replacing that thought with, *In the past it didn't work.
Now I keep my promises.*
It's the study of humor and its effects on the human body. Researchers are
asking the question, *Is laughter good medicine?* You know from your own
experience that laughter breaks stress and tension. Evidence suggests that
laughter enhances the function of your immune system and stimulates pleasure
centers in the brain.
You always have the choice about whether to laugh or cry. Ann remembered that as
she completed an interview for the job of her dreams. She bought a new suit that
made her feel like she already had the job. It wasn't until she left the group
interview that she discovered the toilet paper stuck in the waist of her skirt
streaming behind her like a tail. After an initial rush of embarrassment she
We are a deeply religious nation, and many of my patients use prayer as a source
of strength and comfort. Can prayer promote healing? Growing evidence from
well-respected clinical studies suggests it can, although not enough evidence
for the medical community to conclude that prayer is good for health.
What kind of evidence would you need to use prayer as part of your health
regimen? Interestingly, you would consider the same factors whether you're
re-considering Vioxx or Naproxen (recently found to cause heart problems) or
Aryuvedic remedies (recently found to be associated with toxic levels of heavy
metals). What are the desired benefits, and what are the risks?
What harm could prayer do? We doctors get concerned when patients forgo
conventional therapy that has proven benefit for therapies like prayer or shark
cartilage that do not have proven value. Consider using mind-body therapies such
as prayer together with proven medical treatment. Now, shark cartilage is
another matter - and simply not proven at all.
Gratitude and giving
Some interesting, if preliminary, studies suggest that the expression of
gratitude and the act of giving increase brain serotonin levels, the same
chemical change antidepressant medication helps. That might support your own
experience of feeling better as you reach out to the tsunami victims or express
gratitude for the health and safety of those you love and the extraordinary
richness of your life.
You have the power to carry out your New Year's resolutions, whether it's
achieving greater physical, financial or spiritual health. Who knows-maybe one
day with greater understanding of the mind-body connection, you doctor may
prescribe the power of your mind to help you get there.
About The Author
Vicki Rackner, MD, president of Medical Bridges, is a board- certified surgeon
who left the operating room to help employees become active participants in
their health care. She is a consultant, speaker and author of the *Personal
Health Journal*, author/editor of *Chicken Soup for the Healthy Heart Soul* and
author of the lead story for *Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Soul.* Dr.
Rackner can be reached at http://www.MedicalBridges.com or (425) 451-3777.
Copyright Vicki Rackner, MD -
The pathologic hallmark of the disease is
loss of myelin in peripheral nerves due to an acute and progressive inflammation
of unknown cause. It is suggested that it is an autoimmune disease, in which the
sufferer's immune system is triggered into damaging the nerve covering. There is
some support for this in that half of all cases occur soon after a microbial
infection or respiratory or gastrointestinal viral infection. Many cases
developed in people who received the 1976 swine flu vaccine.
Peripheral nerves originate in the spinal cord and proceed to their target
tissues (mainly muscle, skin and all internal organs). Their most proximal parts
emerging from the spinal cord are called nerve roots and the inflammation in
most (but not all) typical Guillain-Barré syndrome cases starts in these roots.
Therefore, this condition is also referred to as acute polyradiculoneuritis.
Recent studies on the disease have demonstrated that approximately 80% of the
patients have myelin loss, whereas, in the remaining 20%, the pathologic
hallmark of the disease is indeed axon loss. The cases indicating the
demyelinating form (AIDP) are called "acute motor and sensory axonal neuropathy"
(AMSAN); the cases showing only motor symptoms (diffuse weakness) are called
"acute motor axonal neuropathy" (AMAN). In a different and infrequent variant
called Miller Fisher syndrome, patients develop ataxia, loss of tendon reflexes,
and difficulty moving eye muscles but not weakness or sensory loss. All variants
of Guillain-Barré syndrome are now supposed to be an autoimmune disease caused
by antibodies against a variety of gangliosides found in abundant amounts in the
peripheral nerve tissue.