Mind-body medicine uses the power of thoughts and emotions to influence physical health. As Hippocrates once wrote, "The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well." This is mind-body medicine in a nutshell.
Most ancient healing practices, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, emphasize the links between the mind and the body. Western medical views were shaped by systems of thought that emphasized the opposite, that the mind and body are separate.
In 1964, psychiatrist George Solomon noticed that people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) got worse when they were depressed. He began to investigate the impact emotions had on inflammation and the immune system in general. The new field was called psychoneuroimmunology ("psycho" for psychology; "neuro" for neurology, or nervous system; and "immunology" for immunity).
In the 1960s and early 1970s, a physician named Herbert Benson, who coined the term "relaxation response," studied how meditation could affect blood pressure. More understanding of the mind-body link came in 1975, when psychologist Robert Ader showed that mental and emotional cues could affect the immune system.
Today, there is renewed interest in ancient traditions, such as yoga and meditation. No longer viewed with suspicion, mind-body programs are now established at prestigious medical schools in the United States and around the world. Studies show these nondrug treatments may require a longer time period to experience benefits than drugs, but their effects may be broader and more durable.
The key to any mind-body technique is to "train" the mind to focus on the body without distraction. In this state of "focused concentration," a person may be able to improve their health. Some of the most commonly used techniques include:
With biofeedback, people are trained to control certain bodily processes that normally occur involuntarily, such as heart rate or blood pressure. These processes are measured and displayed on a monitor that the person watches. The monitor provides feedback about the internal workings of your body. You can then use this display to gain control over these "involuntary" activities, such as lowering your blood pressure. Biofeedback is effective for a number of conditions, but it is most often used to treat tension headache, migraine headache, and chronic pain.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
CBT is used to help people recognize and change harmful thoughts. For example, people with phobias might deliberately expose themselves, under the direction and guidance of a therapist, to what they are afraid of. Or people who are depressed can learn to counter negative thoughts and feelings with positive ones.
There are several types of relaxation techniques:
While phrases such as "mind over matter" have been around for years, only recently have scientists found solid evidence that mind-body techniques actually do fight disease and promote health. In 1989, for example, a clinical study by David Spiegel, M.D. at Stanford University School of Medicine demonstrated the power of the mind to heal. Of 86 women with late stage breast cancer, half received standard medical care while the other half received standard care plus weekly support sessions. In these sessions, the women were able to share both their grief and their triumphs. Spiegel discovered that the women who participated in the social support group lived twice as long as the women who did not. A similar clinical study in 1999 showed that in people with breast cancer, helplessness and hopelessness are associated with lesser chance of survival.
Other studies also show how meditation affects mood and symptoms in people with different conditions (such as high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, and cancer). It also improves quality of life. More recently, researchers have found that 70 primary care physicians who participated in a mindfulness education program over one year showed dramatic improvement in mindfulness skills, burnout, mood, disturbance, and empathy.
When you are physically or emotionally stressed, your body releases stress hormones that can affect all your systems and organs. For example, stress related to hostility and anxiety can result in disruptions in heart and immune function. Similarly, depression and distress may diminish the body's natural capacity to heal.
Certain emotions have been associated with disease. For example, hostile attitudes may increase your risk for coronary heart disease, obesity (especially around the waist), insulin resistance (which can lead to diabetes), and abnormal cholesterol (specifically, high triglycerides and low levels of high density lipoprotein or HDL, the good kind of cholesterol).
There is no evidence that negative emotions actually cause disease, but research shows that being stressed and having negative emotions can be unhealthy. One study found that unconsciously being defensive or stifling feelings may result in medical consequences, such as high blood pressure. High blood pressure is also associated with feelings of hopelessness. How a person deals with emotions may also affect how long they survive with a chronic illness.
The goal of mind-body techniques is to get the body and mind to relax, and to reduce the levels of stress hormones in the body, so that your immune system is better able to fight off illness.
Mind-body techniques can be helpful for many conditions because they encourage relaxation, improve coping skills, reduce tension and pain, and lessen the need for medication. For example, many mind-body techniques are used along with medication to treat pain. Symptoms of anxiety and depression also respond well to mind-body techniques.
Mind-body techniques may help treat many different diseases, including:
In an analysis of mind-body studies, researchers found that cognitive behavioral therapy is the most long-lasting treatment for tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Relaxation techniques, hypnosis, and biofeedback also helped. Some researchers believe that chronic fatigue syndrome, which affects the immune system, can be treated with mind-body medicine.
Mind-body medicine should not make you feel that your attitude is the cause of your illness.
Mind-body medicine is generally very safe and works well when combined with conventional medical care. Each mind-body technique may have its own risks and side effects. Talk with your health care provider about any concerns you may have.
Specialists who provide biofeedback training include psychiatrists and psychologists, nurses, dentists, and physicians. The Association for Applied Psychology and Biofeedback (www.aapb.org) is a good resource for finding qualified biofeedback practitioners.
Many clinics and hospitals around the country have included relaxation techniques in their health care programs. Contact the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, MA, (www.umassmed.edu/cfm) for a list of the health care facilities in 38 states that offer information on and training in relaxation techniques.
Most hypnotherapists are licensed medical doctors, registered nurses, social workers, or family counselors who have received additional training in hypnotherapy. For example, members of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) must hold a doctorate in medicine, dentistry, podiatry, or psychology, or a master's level degree in nursing, social work, psychology, or marital/family therapy with at least 20 hours of ASCH-approved training in hypnotherapy. For a directory of hypnotherapists near you, contact:
Affleck G, Apter A, Tennen H, et al. Mood states associated with transitory changes in asthma symptoms and peak expiratory flow. Psychosom Med. 2000;62(1):61-68.
Baranowsky J, Klose P, Musial F, Haeuser W, Dobos G, Langhorst J. Qualitative systemic review of randomized controlled trials on complementary and alternative medicine treatments in fibromyalgia. Rheumatol Int. 2009 Aug 12. [Epub ahead of print]
Broderick JE. Mind-body medicine in rheumatologic disease. Rheum Dis Clin North Am. 2000;26(1):161-176, xi.
Bryson KA. Spirituality, meaning, and transcendence. Palliat Support Care. 2004;2(3):321-8.
Carlson LE, Ursuliak Z, Goodey E, Angen M, Speca M. The effects of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction program on mood and symptoms of stress in cancer outpatients: 6-month follow-up. Support Care Cancer. 2001 Mar;9(2):112-23.
Chen KW, Liu T, Zhang H, Lin Z. An analytical review of the Chinese literature on Qigong therapy for diabetes mellitus. Am J Chin Med. 2009;37(3):439-57. Review.
Cotton S, Humenay Roberts Y, Tsevat J, Britto MT, Succop P, McGrady ME, Yi MS. Mind-body complementary alternative medicine use and quality of life in adolescents with inflammatory bowel disease. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2009 Aug 24. [Epub ahead of print]
D'Silva S, Poscablo C, Habousha R, Kogan M, Kligler B. Mind-body medicine therapies for a range of depression severity: a systemic review. Psychosomatics. 2012;53(5):407-23.
Epel E, Daubenmier J, Moskowitz JT, Folkman S, Blackburn E. Can meditation slow rate of cellular aging? Cognitive stress, mindfulness, and telomeres. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2009 Aug;1172:34-53. Review.
Esch T, Stefano GB, Fricchione GL, Benson H. Stress in cardiovascular diseases. Med Sci Monit. 2002;8(5):RA93-RA101.
Gordon JS, Edwards DM. MindBodySpirit Medicine. Semin Oncol Nurs. 2005;21(3):154-8.
Habermann TM, Thompson CA, LaPlant BR, et al. Complementary and alternative medicine use among long-term lymphoma survivors: a pilot study. Am J Hematol. 2009;84(12):795-8.
Jones JF, Maloney EM, Boneva RS, Jones AB, Reeves WC. Complementary and alternative medical therapy utilization by people with chronic fatiguing illnesses in the United States. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2007;7:12.
Keefer L, Blanchard EB. A one year follow-up of relaxation response meditation as a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome. Behav Res Ther. 2002 May;40(5):541-6.
Lando J, Williams SM. Uniting mind and body in our health care and public health systems. Prev Chronic Dis. 2006;3(2):A31.
Levenstein S, Smith MW, Kaplan GA. Psychosocial predictors of hypertension in men and women. Arch Intern Med. 2001;161(10):1341-6.
MacDuff S, Grodin MA, Gardiner P. The use of complementary and alternative medicine among refugees: a systemic review. J Immigr Minor Health. 2011;13(3):585-99.
Maizes V, Rakel D, Niemiec C. Integrative medicine and patient-centered care. Explore (NY). 2009 Sep-Oct;5(5):277-89.
McMillan TL, Mark S. Complementary and alternative medicine and physical activity for menopausal symptoms. J Am Med Women's Assoc. 2004;59(4):270-7.
Mamtani R, Cimino A. A primer of complementary and alternative medicine and its relevance in the treatment of mental health problems. Psychatr Q. 2002;73(4):367-81.
Mehta DH. Mind/body medicine: a report on a sub-topic of the North American Research Conference on Complementary and Integrative Medicine on 24-27 May 2006 in Edmonton, Canada. Complement Ther Med. 2007;15(2):149-50.
Rakel. Textbook of Family Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011.
Selhub EM. Stress and distress in clinical practice: a mind-body approach. Nutr Clin Care. 2002;5(4):182-190.
Sheng C. Emerging paradigms in mind-body medicine. J Altern Complement Med. 2001;7(1):83-91.
Sierpina V, Levine R, Astin J, Tan A. Use of mind-body therapies in psychiatry and family medicine faculty and residents: attitudes, barriers, and gender differences. Explore (NY). 2007;3(2):129-35.
Sierpina VS, Kreitzer MJ, Brodsky M, et al. Innovations in integrative healthcare education: mind-body faculty development at UCLA and the symposium for portland area research on complementary and alternative medicine. Explore (NY). 2006;2(6):547-9.
Sierpina VS, Kreitzer MJ. Innovations in integrative healthcare education: mind-body medicine training. Explore (NY). 2005;1(5):402-4.
Smith JE, Richardson J, Hoffman C, Pilkington K. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction as supportive therapy in cancer care: systematic review. J Adv Nurs. 2005;52(3):315-27.
Ventegodt S, Thegler S, Andreasen T, et al. Clinical holistic medicine (mindful, short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy complemented with bodywork) in the treatment of experienced impaired sexual functioning. Scientific World Journal. 2007;7:324-9.
Vitetta L, Anton B, Cortizo F, Sali A. Mind-body medicine: stress and its impact on overall health and longevity. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2005;1057:492-505.
Wells RE, Loder E. Mind/Body and behavioral treatments: the evidence and approach. Headache. 2012;52 Suppl 2:70-5.
Xiong GL, Doraiswamy PM. Does meditation enhance cognition and brain plasticity? Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2009 Aug;1172:63-9.
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2022 A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.