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The Mind-Body Connection and Chronic Illness

Molecules of Emotion Many people who develop chronic illnesses find that conventional medical care is inadequate for treating their symptoms and incapable of giving them the quality of life they desire. This is a major reason why many of us turn to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Many CAM therapies are proposed to work through the so called 'mind-body connection'.

Despite a now well established body of sound scientific evidence this connection is usually ignored by conventional medicine which still thinks of the body and mind as being seperate. In conventional medicine there is no room for a "spiritual" aspect to healing at all.

To many people it seems obvious that the mind and body are essentially one and the same. Science began to make this link experimentally around the 1950s and in 1980 Robert Ader introduced the term 'psychoneuroimmunology' during his presidential lecture to the American Psychosomatic Society. The term brings together research from disciplines including psychology, neurology, immunology and endocrinology. The field of psychoneuroimmunology has grown at a rapid rate over the proceeding decades and has led to research that demonstrates that the brain and nervous system, immune system and endocrine (hormonal) systems are all connected and in constant connection. A change in one does not occur in isolation to a change in the others.

For example, it was previously thought that the immune system acted autonomously and was not affected by our thoughts and emotions. However, it is now known through scientific experimentation that stress of any kind, whether physical (e.g. endurance exercise) or mental/emotional (bereavement, loneliness), activates the sympathetic nervous system which in turn triggers the release of stress hormones which ultimately suppress the immune system, reducing numbers of various subtypes of white blood cells such as T lymphocytes and natural killer (NK) cells which are vital for protecting us from infection. Equally the absence of stress and the presence of positive thoughts and emotions have the reverse effect on the immune system, promoting health.

The communication and effects are not one-way however. A stress on the immune system such as a chronic viral infection causes the sustained release of the adrenal hormone cortisol which then effects the nervous system. High levels of cortisol are found in people suffering from clinical depression, for example.

Many CAM therapies and stress reduction techniques are now thought to exert their therapeutic effects by acting on these interconnected systems and restoring a level of balance, thus reducing symptoms and improving health.

Many good books have been written on the mind-body connection and psychoneuroimmunology that explain further:

1. Molecules of Emotion - Candace B. Pert, Ph.D.

2. Everything You Need to Know to Feel Go(o)d - Candace B. Pert, Ph.D.

3. The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and Emotions - Esther M. Sternberg M.D.

For those with a more scientific/medical mind then a useful textbook is:

Introduction to Psychoneuroimmunology (UK) - Jorge H. Daruna


This is a really interesting area and has the potential to help all of us suffering from environmental illnesses. I hope my little introduction here will encourage you to look into it further.





About: Matthew Hogg ("Maff")
Diagnosed with M.E./chronic fatigue syndrome aged only 11 years old and subsequently associated illnesses including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). Despite his own struggles he has constantly sought to educate and support others suffering from such "invisible illnesses" through his website, The Environmental Illness Resource. He fully recovered from MCS using his own approach and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nutritional Health.