2012 there were an estimated 1.6 million new cancer cases reported in the
United States (American
Cancer Society). Such a drastic number raises the question:
what if people were capable of healing themselves, free of charge? There are many cultural references that
include a person able to move objects with their mind. Some even propose humans capable of
controlling another with the power of their mind. People may be able to use their mind to
control their own body, just as easily. Keonig
defines psychoneuroimmunology as “the study of how social and psychological
factors affect the neuroendocrine and immune functioning” (Keonig). In order to best understand Keonig’s
definition, it should be broken into four main parts. First are social factors,
which can include the environment as well as the behaviors of those in it. Next, is psychological factors, which can be
defined as a person’s mental health, including stressors (events or triggers
that cause stress). The third part
involves neuroendocrine cells. These are
cells that receive neuronal input and, as a result, release hormones into the
blood. The last part is the human immune
system. Immune functioning is how the
human body uses the immune system for defense against diseases and for healing
wounds. The progression of research on
psychoneuroimmunology can, and most likely will, be beneficial to humans in the
different experiments have been conducted on the correlation between mental and
physical health. Studies have found
multiple links between psychological factors and the early stages of cancer.
There is strong evidence that these factors play a pivotal role in the
progression of cancer and the overall mortality rate (Fagundes, Lindgren,
Kiecolt- Glaser). Research indicates
that a person's mental health may affect the formation of cancer. This suggests
it is more likely for the state of mind to affect the progression of the
disease. There are other aspects of
human wellness that psychological factors affect. Research by Kiecolt-Glaser, McGuire, Robles, and Glaser shows that “that immune modulation by psychological stressors can lead to
actual health changes, with the strongest direct evidence to date in infectious
disease and wound healing” (Kiecolt-Glaser, McGuire, Robles, Glaser). Due to the fact that stressors can be either
negative or positive, there is a strong possibility that having a positive
stressor can aid in disease recovery and healing of physical wounds. On the other hand, this theory indicates that
a negative stressor can increase healing time.
Negative stressors can also possess the ability to the body unable to
recover from illness or injury. Another
study links stress to depression. It
indicates that these elements consistently elevate inflammation and are often
experienced simultaneously. Troubled relationships
can often exacerbate these issues (Jaremka, Lindgren). There is evidence that a positive mood and
attitude can help boost the immune system and that negativity is harmful to the
body. As previously mentioned, these negative thoughts and attitudes caused by
depression and stress are harmful to the immune system. This degradation can
lead to inflammation of tissue and organs in the body. In this condition, the
body is more susceptible to disease and complications from surgeries. Through the research conducted, it is evident
that there is the possibility for both positive and negative emotions to affect
the internal functions of the body, such as inflammation, the immune system,
and healing. It is proposed that with
therapy, decreased negativity can lead to faster healing and recovery. As more experiments are conducted through the
years, it will be possible to more accurately target and treat diseases and
are many practices, such as meditation and yoga used in psychoneuroimmunology research. For example, in a study by Davidson, Richard,
and other researchers it was found that “significant increases in antibody
titers to influenza vaccine among subjects in the meditation compared with
those in the wait-list control group” (Davidson, Richard, et al.). In order to best understand this definition,
it needs to be broken down. Meditation, a practice where a person trains their
mind, creating a mode of consciousness is another example of the connection
between the mental and physical state.
An antibody is a protein that fights off infections and is created when
a foreign substance invades the body.
Antibodies remain in the body, to help fight should the same substance
invade again. Repeat diseases can easily
be fought off by these antibodies. In
Davidson and Richardson’s study, meditating was shown to assist in the creation
of more antibodies, allowing the body to fight diseases, such as
influenza. It can be concluded from this
research that inducing a state of consciousness, such as meditating, can have
positive effects on the body. This
doesn’t only go one way, though.
According to a study, “Yoga was most commonly used to treat
musculoskeletal or mental health conditions, and most users reported yoga to be
helpful for these conditions” (Birdee, Gurjeet S., et al.). This is another example of a current
application of the mind-body connection.
Yoga differs from the meditation, though. As opposed to a state of mind helping the
body, a physical activity aids the mind.
Through a physical activity, such as yoga, a person’s mental health can
be improved. The mind-body connection is
currently being used and many benefit from it.
awareness is as important to the field of psychoneuroimmunology as the research
itself. This is demonstrated with breast
cancer patients. Those who were more
hopeful about life and their odds of recovery, were less likely to relapse
within five years than those who were less hopeful (Fagundes, Lindgren,
Kiecolt-Glaser). If it is known that
being more hopeful will increase life expectancy, not only will patients strive
to have more hope, but they will become more hopeful as they know their life
expectancy has increased. Studies also
showed that the more depressed a patient, specifically a woman, was, the more
likely she was to die within five years (Fagundes, Lindgren,
Kiecolt-Glaser). If it becomes common
knowledge to treat depression first, this could increase the chance of
remission. Knowledge of
psychoneuroimmunology research could give patients reduced recovery time
because it opens the door for early treatment.
As shown in an inflammation study, “the relationship between distress
and inflammation is bidirectional; depression enhances inflammation and inflammation
promotes depression” (Jaremka, Lindgren).
Inflammation of tissues and organs can cause additional complications,
as well as weaken the immune system. If
a patient with depression begins to notice warning signs of possible
inflammation, medical attention should be sought immediately. This gives patients the opportunity to work
with their care provider to establish a treatment plan before the negative
effects spread. In these situations,
time is often the largest enemy.
Additional awareness of the connection between mental and physical
health can increase patient’s chances of remission.
is plenty of room for growth and development regarding the application of
psychoneuroimmunology research in the medical field. Based on the results of multiple studies, the
use of various methods of therapy could be the next step in many areas. Studies show that women were more likely to
be diagnosed with cancer within fifteen years of a stressful life event than
those who had not had a stressful event occur (Fagundes, Lindren,
Kiecolt-Glaser). If people were warned
that their chances of getting cancer increased after the occurrence of a
stressful event, they would be more likely to seek therapy to alleviate their
stress. Therapy does not completely
eliminate the risk, but those receiving therapeutic counselling would find the
chance of being diagnosed with cancer reduced.
Then, if they do contract cancer, their chances of recovery will be
higher. This is no small issue and the
opportunity to benefit human-kind is significant. In 2012 there were an estimated 1.6 million
new cancer cases (American Cancer Society) and 577,190, cancer related deaths
in the United States alone (Siegel). The
number of cases occurring each year could decrease greatly with increased
knowledge of how stress and depression affects cancer patients. These changes create a snowball effect where
mental health improves, thus improving physical health. Fewer cases occurring means the number of
people who need to be treated will be reduced, leaving room for each patient to
get the attention they deserve. Doctors
can leverage this opportunity to spend more time with patients in a proactive
manner. Time spent on preventative care
can reduce healthcare costs while improving the lives of millions; as
additional research is conducted on the relationship between the mind, the
immune, system and other inner processes, more illnesses can be prevented.
is the study of the effects of psychological factors on the immune system. Currently, it is being used in many different
areas, but is primarily still in the research and experimentation phase. A variety of several experiments have been
conducted, concluding the state of the human mind measurably impacts recovery
time and overall patient health.
Scientists have merely scratched the surface of medical application.
This means there is significant opportunity for the expansion of research and
its application. In turn, this will continue to develop the
link between mental health and physical wellness. Because of this correlation, not only
patients, but all humans can benefit from the continuation of
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