For years, the mind-body connection was viewed with some scepticism. As a scientist in the pharmaceutical industry, even talk of the placebo effect as an actual therapeutic effect was laughed at. It was believed amongst my colleagues that people are “not really getting
better, they just think they’re getting better.”
Now we know that belief, in terms of the placebo effect, actually alters a person’s biology. For example, when a person receives a placebo instead of a painkiller, but they believe it to be a painkiller, the brain produces its own natural painkillers and pain diminishes. The person doesn’t just think the pain is diminishing. It’s not all in their mind. The pain is actually reducing and is doing so because of the production of natural painkillers (known as
endogenous opioids) in the brain on account of the person’s belief. In other words, the brain produces what it needs to produce to deliver the result that the person is expecting.
The same has been shown to be true with Parkinson’s patients. In research, when given a saltwater injection instead of the anti-Parkinson’s drug, apomorphine, the brain of Parkinson’s patients produced dopamine in the correct region necessary. There was a corresponding reduction in tremors, muscle stiffness, and activation of individual brain cells. Again, the patients didn’t just think their symptoms were improving. There really was an
improvement and it was due to the production of dopamine in their brain following their belief that they had just received an injection of apomorphine.
Again, the brain has produced what it needed to produce to deliver the result that the person was expecting.
There is now no doubt that the mind affects the body. The questions now being asked are, to what extent and how can we tap into it?
We’ve been unwittingly tapping into it for years. Feelings of stress produce stress hormones, like adrenalin and cortisol. It is not an event or circumstance that produces them, but your feelings about the event or circumstance. The same event can be experienced differently by someone else. It’s only more recently that we realised that feelings of different types, as well as beliefs and even things we imagine, impact the brain
and body too.
Top sportspeople have been aware for years that visualisation can be used to enhance performance. Studies have shown that visualisation practice can improve physical strength. Many elite athletes mentally rehearse a specific shot or movement over and over again to improve it. More recently, the technique has been shown to benefit stroke patients.
Visualisation training in addition to physiotherapy has been found to help patients recover more quickly than physiotherapy alone.
Even visualising eating can impact the brain in a similar way to actually eating. Volunteers imagining eating sweets or cubes of cheese, for example, when later offered more of the same were found to have reduced appetite for more, just as would happen had they actually eaten the sweets or cheese. Imagining eating activates the ‘I’m full’ signal in the brain just as actually eating does.
Studies even show that visualising the immune system can enhance the immune system. In a randomised controlled trial (RCT) of women with breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy, some of the women visualised their immune systems destroying cancer cells in addition to their treatment. After four cycles of chemotherapy, their immune systems were found to be working much more effectively than in the women who were not
Research in the mind-body connection has come a long way in the past decade or so. Once scoffed at as just a ‘hippy’ or ‘new age’ idea, it is now considered scientific fact that the mind impacts the body. The challenge for us is in learning how to direct our minds to bring about the healthiest effects.
David is hosting a day-long workshop in London on the 8th February. In this workshop, you will learn all the ways that your mind impacts your body, including up to date cutting edge research and gain amazing insight into the placebo effect and how belief has an actual impact on the brain and body so that the body's natural resources are mobilised in line with your beliefs.
Find out more about the workshop and buy tickets here; http://bit.ly/DavidHamiltonLon