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Mind- Body Link

An understanding of how the mind affects the body, and vice-versa, requires a combined knowledge of PSYCHLOGY (the mind), of NEUROLOGY (the nervous system) and of IMMUNOLOGY (the body's natural defences)

Mind body pathways

There are two main types of mind-body pathways:

  • AFFERENT - These pathways take signals FROM the muscles and glands TO the brain and spinal cord. Chemical signals from all over the body are sent to the brain in order to regulate the hormone production signals in the brain.
  • EFFERENT- These pathways take signals FROM the brain and spinal cord TO the body's organs, muscles and glands, strengthening the immune structures of the body.

HORMONES are chemical substances produced by various ENDOCRINE GLANDS and released into the bloodstream to effect actions in other parts of the body. Among other things the HORMONAL SYSTEM of the body is under control of mental and external stimuli which interact and operate on the HYPOTHALAMUS. The hypothalamus is the main point in the brain where the nerve and hormonal systems of the body interact. The hypothalamus controls the PITUITARY GLAND, the central gland which releases a range of hormones which in turn stimulate the action of the other endocrine glands. Electrical brain action, including that caused by mental stimuli from THOUGHTS AND EMOTIONS, cause the pituitary gland to send it chemical messages to the rest of the system, which may result in the release of hormones, for example adrenaline, into the blood stream. In this way, all hormones are associated with changes in the state of the emotions and conversely, emotions change the levels of hormones in the body.

The nervous system thus has control over nearly all the body's defence systems ans so every thought, emotion or belief can either enhance or inhibit the immune system by triggering different chemical reactions.

For example, there is ever increasing evidence to show that stress can have profound effects on the efferent pathways, negatively altering the immune system. Stress, both physical and emotional, has been linked with auto-immune and rheumatic diseases.

Pathways and personality

Personality has also been shown to influence the outcome of disease. Perceptions, thoughts and feelings can have a crucial function in disease onset and progression by repeatedly activating certain efferent pathways. For example, depressive thoughts can lower a mood which promotes depressive behaviour, leading to a large increase in efferent pathway activity. The resulting increases in hormone levels have a negative effect on the function of the brain. This can be a vicious circle: negative thoughts can suppress immunity, which can predispose the body to illness, in turn encouraging more negative thoughts can predispose the body to illness, in turn encouraging more negative thoughts.

The mind-body link can work both ways. Just as negative thoughts suppress immunity, positive thoughts are believed to promote immunity.

So think positively!

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