Is it All in Your Head?

If you have asthma, why would doctors be interested in looking at your brain? There are plenty of good reasons, according to recent research in mind-body science, also referred to as psychosomatic medicine. Researchers used cat dander to trigger a response in asthmatics and then showed them words commonly related to asthma, such as “wheeze.” Participants’ symptoms worsened after viewing the words. Activity heightened in brain regions that connect to areas that process emotions. The result: the increased activity worsened inflammation and obstruction.

This is just one example of the research presented at the American Psychosomatic Society’s annual meeting in Denver, Colorado, March 1-4. The abstracts presented at this year’s show (the above example is from 2005), show the breadth of knowledge now available on how the mind is related to the body. Many of the findings may help wellness and allied health professionals better understand underlying conditions associated with chronic diseases. Here are just a few study topics represented at this year’s meeting:

  • information on how the brain communicates with the immune system;
  • the effects of stress on chronic disease, specifically heart disease;
  • how poor stress management worsens low back pain;
  • depression and cardiovascular morbidity;
  • a look at electrogastography, a research technique that measures the electrical activity of the stomach and how it is affected by stressors; and
  • how psychological stress increases the risk of metabolic syndrome in the elderly.
“With the explosion in neuroscience, mind-body medicine can now bring the brain in,” said Richard Lane, president of the American Psychosomatic Society, in an article in the March 17 edition of The Wall Street Journal. “That holds out the possibility of moving from correlation to mechanism.”

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