Mind Body Medicine: Using the Mind to Improve Health
As someone who trained and certified in Internal Medicine and Endocrinology over 35 years ago I began to see the connection between consciousness and biology. I was always puzzled that two patients with the same illness seeing the same physician receiving the same treatment could still have completely different outcomes. Many times we physicians would invoke genes to explain this mystery but we now know that even identical twins with the same genes can have different gene expression based on the choices they make in their life.
My training as an endocrinologist also allowed me to see the connection between what happens in the mind and how that relates to what happens in the body. Today we know that neurotransmitters like dopamine, oxytocin serotonin, and opiates serve as both the molecules of emotions as well as immunomodulators constantly fine tuning our biological responses to the challenges of the world. The mind and body are indeed inseparably one. Our consciousness expresses itself as our cognition, as our thoughts feelings and emotions, perceptions personal relationships, social interactions, our environment and biology. These are the different expressions of awareness that interdependently co-arise as what is happening at a deep level of consciousness within us.
The greatest insight for transformation we can have is that we have immense power to influence what happens in our biology. It is important to realize that our physical bodies are not fixed anatomical structures but dynamic processes that are constantly changing. These processes are influenced by everyday activities such as eating, breathing, digesting, metabolism, elimination, sensory experience and our inner world of thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories, desires, dreams and choices.
Today thanks to the wonderful work of pioneers such as Dean Ornish, M.D., and others, we know that nothing in our body is totally fixed. Coronary artery disease and atherosclerosis can be reversed through dietary and behavioral choices. This is only the beginning of the story. From recent studies we know that several biomarkers of the aging process, including bone density, body temperature regulation, basal metabolic rate, fat content, cholesterol HDL ratios, blood pressure, aerobic capacity, muscle mass, muscle strength, blood sugar tolerance, sex hormone levels and skin thickness, to mention only as few, all these aging factors can be reversed within four months of lifestyle changes. These lifestyle changes include better sleep, exercise, stress management, diet, loving relationships and other behavioral changes.
As a senior scientist at Gallup Organization I have also seen the data on the connection between career health, social health, community health, financial health, physical health and emotional and spiritual well being. The everyday choices we make affect not only our physical health, but all dimensions of our collective health and well being. This is not to say that pharmaceutical and surgical interventions are not warranted. Indeed, as a doctor I know they can often be the difference between life and death. But looking at them to solve all of our illnesses has made us as a society overlook the powerful self-healing mechanisms within us. We ought to bear in mind that 80% of prescribed drugs are optional treatments or marginal benefit.
This means that if you didn’t use them you would be better off as they do not alter the natural course of most common illnesses or symptoms such as insomnia. In fact, in my experience, pain, nausea, anxiety, insomnia, and constipation are the symptoms requiring the most medications. These can often be eliminated with a combination of holistic interventions such as diet, breathing techniques, meditation, active and passive movement, and massage.
We today stand on the threshold of a new era in which we are able to create our new wellness story. Alexander Tsiaras (www.TheVisualMD.com) and I have embarked on a new project that captures the essence of our wellness story in human anatomical images that are derived from multidimensional scans in real time. With these images we are able to show dramatic changes in our physical body, including blood vessels, bone, and brain as a result of lifestyle changes. We hope to bring you a weekly tip through Huffington Post that will be both informative and practical. These tips will be accompanied by one of the images or videos we are creating.
Deepak Chopra, MD