Mind Body Connection
By Dr. Ben
once in a while, I receive requests for references to back up some
of information on self health care that I provide in my articles and
on my website. If a post doesn't have citations for published studies,
some people refuse to consider its contents. Believe it or not, some
of these folks get downright ornery about this issue.
I encourage everyone to learn as much as they can about human anatomy
and physiology. The more you know about your design and how all of
your organ systems work together to preserve your health, the better
equipped you'll be to make choices that support your health.
the three giant endnotes that could sit at the bottom of every page
of this web site are Guyton's
textbook on Human Physiology, Robbins'
text on Pathology, and Lehninger's
textbook on Biochemistry - these books provide a comprehensive
look at how your body works, from the cellular level all the way up
to your organ systems.
I like to point out that the science of human health is vastly different
from the science of non-living and non-thinking entities. For example,
when drawing up engineering plans for a bridge or writing the code
that makes a web site work, skilled engineers and computer programmers
can work their way to their desired outcomes one step at a time. They
may have to go through some trial and error, eliminating options as
they go along and coming up with creative ways to address unique challenges,
but ultimately, their problem solving occurs within a matrix that
is governed by mathematics and physics.
body is also governed by mathematics and immutable laws of physics.
The difference between your body and the Golden Gate bridge is that
your body is constantly being affected by your thoughts and emotions.
The endless stream of neurotransmitters, hormones, and other biological
compounds that are produced by your thoughts and emotions makes it
impossible for any physician to fully understand your needs and prescribe
a guaranteed fix for whatever ails you.
this the mind-body connection, and it's arguably the most overlooked
determinant of human health.
to the Mind-Body Connection
I began chiropractic school in the suburbs of Illinois, I was consumed
with anxiety about how I was going to pay for my education. Being
from Canada, I didn’t have access to the same student loans that my
fellow American students had. The Canadian government loaned me and
other Canadian students studying abroad approximately eight thousand
Canadian dollars per year, barely enough to cover tuition and dormitory
fees for a third of each year.
time, my parents were struggling to build a young Korean Presbyterian
church in Toronto and were unable to help me with more than a couple
hundred dollars of grocery money every four months. I was extremely
blessed to receive an entrance scholarship that took care of half
of my tuition costs each semester, but I still needed to find a way
to come up with about three thousand dollars every four months to
pay my way through school.
in my first semester, I discovered that the best work opportunities
on campus were a few coveted fellowship positions, one in each major
department. These fellowships provided a stipend worth a few thousand
dollars each semester, just what I needed. The problem was that these
positions didn’t come up very often, only when a current fellow was
ready to graduate.
my first two semesters, I worked as an assistant in the biochemistry
lab and did some private tutoring in neuroanatomy. These part time
jobs were enough to buy a few essential textbooks, but the balance
owing on my tuition and dormitory bills got scarier by the month.
I never spent more than twenty-five dollars per week on food. My staples
were potatoes, white bread that was thirty-three cents a loaf, peanut
butter, pasta with tomato sauce, frozen cheese pizzas that were two
bucks a piece (good for two meals), and whatever fruit was on sale
each week at ten cents per piece.
beginning of my third semester, I was elated when the anatomy department
announced that a search was on for a new fellow who would take the
place of the current fellow when he graduated. Given my academic record
at the time, I was extremely hopeful of getting this position. I spent
the next few days scurrying around the main building and library,
getting together reference letters and polishing up my resume as I
prepared my application.
day, I cannot remember how I found out that I did not get the position.
All I remember was how crushed I was at the news. I literally couldn’t
eat anything for a day and a half, thinking that I had lost a golden
opportunity to pay my way through school. Within days, I came down
with a viral infection that had me in bed with a fever, sweats, excruciating
lower back pain, and extreme weakness. Even after I recovered about
a week later, I felt sluggish, weak, and depressed.
still feeling down and unhealthy a few months later when I learned
that the research department was taking applications for a new research
fellowship position. Almost instantly, my disappointment vanished
as I went after this new position with gusto.
days, the head of the research department called me to her office,
where she announced that I was hired. Unbelievable! For a full year,
my mind and heart had been consumed with getting a fellowship position.
I had regularly dreamt about being a fellow, paying my tuition and
dormitory bills, and even squirreling away a few dollars each month.
sat in that office doing my best to look calm, I felt like I just
won the lottery. When I got out of the meeting and a few meters away
from the clinic, I broke into a sprint, yelping and punching at the
air. I'm sure I looked like a first class ninny.
I reached my apartment, I called my folks, out of breath, and blurted
out the amazing news. My parents were incredibly happy, of course,
which fueled me into an even greater frenzy. At one point, I remember
smothering my face in my pillow and hollering as loud as I could –
I was incapable of containing my excitement
that moment in my life, I had never felt that kind of gratitude. I
think that my joy was enhanced by the devastation I had felt just
a few months prior.
later, I was able to think back to both moments - the feeling of ultimate
defeat and the feeling of ultimate triumph – and realize how much
power my emotions had over my physical health. When my dream was crushed,
I felt like a five to ten car pileup. When my greatest hope became
reality, I felt like I was almost floating around campus, able to
accomplish anything and be compassionate to the nastiest of people.
At a relatively young age, I experienced the power that my emotions
had to influence my physical well-being.
Mind-Body Connection is ON at All Times
the thing: it's not just the big ups and downs that affect your health
via your mind-body connection. This connection is on at all times.
thought and emotion that courses through you influences your health.
Your thoughts and emotions affect blood flow, the strength of your
immune system, healing capacity, and every other aspect of your physiology.
see evidence of this undeniable connection between your ongoing emotions
and your health in everyday life. Have you ever woken up from a bad
dream, covered with a thin coat of sweat? Nothing but your dream –
thoughts and emotions – caused a series of chemical reactions that
resulted in real physical change: production of sweat from your sweat
you ever had your mouth water at the thought of eating a particular
food that you had a strong craving for? How about saliva production
at the thought of drinking a large glass of cold, tart, super sour
lemon juice? Clearly, your thoughts and emotions are capable of causing
physical contraction of your salivary glands.
about the obvious physical changes that occur in your body when you
feel sexually aroused? Again, mere thoughts and emotions creating
a ripple of physical effects throughout your body.
how real and powerful this ongoing connection is between your emotions
and physical health, can you see how regularly eating a large green
salad with a resentful or depressed spirit is not conducive to supporting
your best health?
Limitations of Scientific Research
back to the issue of references to scientific research, should you
ignore health information that isn't footnoted with studies that are
published in indexed and peer-reviewed medical journals?
you can make this decision for yourself. Personally, I don't need
health information to be footnoted with published studies to consider
its merit. To judge the value of any new health information that I
come across, all I require are logic and my knowledge of human anatomy
and physiology. And when I don't know enough about the human anatomy
and physiology involved with a particular health issue, I educate
myself until I am confident that I have enough knowledge to make a
logical assessment of the issue at hand.
to assessing health information was largely shaped by experiences
that I had in the world of medical research during my undergraduate
(University of Toronto, Clinical Sciences Division of the Institute
of Medical Sciences) and graduate (National University of Health Sciences)
years of schooling.
I was a research fellow at the National University of Health Sciences,
I was intimately involved with a randomized control trial that was
designed to evaluate the effect that chiropractic adjustments had
on primary dysmenorrhea, also known as painful menstruation. A randomized
control trial (RCT) is a type of scientific investigation that is
meant to reduce or eliminate bias; RCTs are considered to be the most
reliable form of scientific evidence in modern medical research.
study assigned subjects - all women with primary dysmenorrhea - into
one of two groups: the first group received a series of "sham" treatments,
while the second group received a series of spinal manipulative treatments.
The women received their weekly treatments without being told which
group they were assigned to, and filled out a series of questionnaires
to subjectively rate the effectiveness of their treatments.
with the dysmenorrhea study allowed me to make the following realization:
dealing with human subjects, even the most meticulously designed
and conducted randomized control trials fail to account for the
ongoing impact that thoughts, emotions, and interaction with other
humans have on overall health.
dysmenorrhea study, it was obvious to me that a significant determinant
of how the women felt about the effectiveness of their treatments
was how the attending physicians and research assistants interacted
with them. We can all relate to this, can't we? All of us know how
reassuring it is to be cared for by a doctor who has a warm bedside
manner, just as we know how upsetting it can be to be handled by an
studies that involve human subjects are at the mercy of this huge,
uncontrollable variable. Even if a study involves something as simple
as giving its subjects one of two pills, the effect of taking any
pill will always be influenced by the subject's thoughts and emotions
surrounding that moment. And the subject's thoughts and emotions will
always be influenced by his or her circumstances and interactions
with others before, during, and after treatment.
are well aware of the impact that your thoughts and emotions have
on your health. They even have a term for it - it's called the placebo
effect, which is defined as the healing effect of a "sham" therapy.
published a few years ago in the Journal of General Internal Medicine
found that out of 466 faculty physicians at Chicago-area medical schools,
231 of them reported that they had prescribed placebos in clinical
practice. Reasons for prescribing placebos included:
it unfortunate that while many people are aware of the power of the
placebo effect, they have a tendency to forget about it when it comes
to evaluating medical research.
another important realization that I made during my years as a research
assistant and fellow:
researchers at colleges and universities are under significant pressure
to receive grants to carry out their research and have the results
of their research published in indexed and peer-reviewed medical
think it's naive to believe that the pressures that researchers
face to meet these objectives don't influence some of their findings,
the way their findings are presented, or if their findings are even
presented to the public.
just one example of how medical research and guidelines may not always
be in your best interest, think back to the summer of 2004 when a
panel of expert physicians lowered the "safe" level of LDL cholesterol
from 130 to 100 mg/dL, and even recommended that people at high risk
of developing cardiovascular disease aim to lower their LDL level
to 70. This modification in the medical standard of practice for assessing
and addressing blood cholesterol levels caused an estimated eight
million Americans to instantly become candidates for cholesterol-related
this "medical news" was covered by all major media outlets and news
wires, only one newspaper, Newsday, reported that most of the physicians
who were responsible for establishing the new recommendations had
conflicts of interest; almost all had received money – mainly in the
form of grants or honoraria - from at least ten drug companies. These
financial disclosures were not reported by the National Cholesterol
Educational Program, which was the source of the new medical treatment
guidelines for cholesterol.
do you know what information to trust to help you with your health?
Hopefully, you agree that the size of the footnote section of health
articles does not correlate with how reliable they are. This is not
to say that footnotes are useless. There are excellent researchers
and research papers in our world, and footnote sections can acquaint
us with them.
a practical level, when searching for answers to your health questions,
rather than spend time researching each footnote and assessing the
validity of the original research in question (not forgetting the
uncontrollable mind-body-connection element), I suggest that you consider
doing what I mentioned above: educate yourself on relevant details
of human anatomy and physiology until you are confident that you have
enough knowledge to make a logical assessment of the health information
that you are considering.
put into action the steps that make the most sense to you, you must
continuously observe your progress and be open to making adjustments
until you experience the improvement that you're looking for. Keep
trying, observing, and adjusting as necessary. Because what works
for some people may not work perfectly for you. And if you find something
that works for you, continue to observe and be open to making adjustments,
because what works for you today may not necessarily work for you
as you go through different phases of life and healing.
is what it means to be your own best doctor. No one can understand
and take care of your health better than you can, because only you
live with all of your thoughts, emotions, and life experiences.
importantly, as you search for answers to your health challenges and
take measures to improve your health, I encourage you to be hopeful.
If you commit yourself to the belief that you cannot get better, then
so it likely will be. If you embrace the attitude that regardless
of how unfortunate your circumstances are, you have power to improve
your situation with your thoughts, emotions, and behavior, you may
just create what some people call a spontaneous remission, and what
others call a miracle.
of your health and life begins with your thoughts, which govern your
emotions, which create the juice that coats all of your cells. What
kind of juice you manufacture moment-to-moment is almost entirely
up to you.
bring this post to a close with the following suggestion:
you feel your thoughts and emotions going to the dark side, be it
rage, jealousy, resentment, pettiness, or self pity, to change your
momentum, ask yourself any of the following:
do I love most in this world?
in this world cherishes me?
brings me joy?
I knew that I only had a week left on this planet, what would I
am I grateful for?
think about your answers to any of these questions.
your soul to marinate in your answers.
your answers in and out.
them at a cellular level.
is how you and you alone can create health-enhancing juice anytime
and anywhere. Enjoy it, and know that no supplement, drug, or surgical
procedure can help you in this way.
should you do this? As often as possible, I say. To make this a morning
and nightly ritual isn't such a bad idea. As Aristotle told us, "we
are what we repeatedly do."
just about all I have to say to those who need references to scientific
literature to make decisions regarding their health care. Hope this
jumble of thoughts is helpful to at least one person out there.
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