The scientific proof that positive thinking really helps overcome chronic pain and illness

Since ancient times, our popular songs and stories have told how grief and mourning can make us die of a broken heart. Now scientists say they have discovered the powerful physical connections between our minds and bodies that actually cause such damage.

And the good news is that scientists believe they can develop revolutionary new ways to treat serious conditions like chronic pain and cancer by understanding how our brains physically affect our brains.

Doctors have long known that trauma can damage our hearts. At its most extreme, in a condition called broken heart syndrome or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, stressful events cause people’s heart muscles to suddenly weaken, which can be fatal.

Grief and loss can also cause damage that is more damaging or less immediately catastrophic, according to a new study by researchers in Sweden, who examined the health records of more than two million parents.

It found that those who had lost a child had more than double the risk of developing atrial fibrillation – in which the heart beats irregularly and significantly increases the risk of stroke – the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health reported in March.

Now scientists say they have discovered the powerful physical connections between our minds and bodies that actually cause such damage

Dr. Dang Wei, an epidemiologist who led the study at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, told Good Health: “A broken heart breaks the heart. Individuals who lost a close relative were at greater risk for atrial fibrillation, heart disease, heart attack, stroke and heart failure than those who had not.’

But how are emotions and hearts so closely linked?

In Israel, Hedva Haykin, an immunology researcher at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, is investigating the role of a brain region associated with positive emotions and motivation called the ventral tegmental area (VTA).

Her post-mortem studies in mice show that they are much less scarred by heart attacks when their VTA is electronically stimulated — with “only specks of damage,” the Nature Journal reported in February.

She says activating the VTA positive emotion center in the brain appears to trigger immune changes that help to reduce damaging scar tissue. Now she and her colleagues are investigating why, to enable doctors to harness this positive power of the mind.

Meanwhile, other studies are finding vital clues about how the VTA plays a critical role in other serious conditions, particularly chronic pain.

In 2020, a study led by Professor Gerald Zamponi – a neurobiologist at the University of Calgary, Canada – showed that VTA stimulation alleviated the condition of mice crippled by chronic pain.

It prompts the VTA to transfer the powerful reward chemical dopamine to the pain-producing area of ​​our brain (the medial prefrontal cortex), Professor Zamponi wrote in the journal Cell Reports.

In chronic pain, it is believed that this cortex can ‘get stuck’, causing high levels of pain sensations. But Professor Zamponi says his studies show that when the VTA sends dopamine to the cortex, it cuts off its activity and pain sensations diminish.

He believes that positive motivation can also stimulate the VTA to release dopamine: ‘In humans, neuronal activity in the VTA is impaired under chronic pain conditions’. He suggests that encouraging people with chronic pain to boost their VTAs by increasing their levels of positivity may ease their symptoms.

Experts say a breakup can also cause temporary physical problems, such as hair loss or skin conditions such as rosacea

Experts say a breakup can also cause temporary physical problems, such as hair loss or skin conditions such as rosacea

This may sound a bizarre alternative. But it’s no different than what the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) suggests.

Two years ago, NICE ruled that drugs such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, benzodiazepines or opioids should no longer be given as first-line treatments for chronic pain because “there is little or no evidence that they make any difference to aches and pains.” can cause damage’. Instead, it recommends two psychological approaches: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). Both are designed to help patients replace negative thinking with positive ways to shape their lives and futures.

Hedva Haykin says that while there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that people who think positively seem to survive disease better, the fact that they can identify a pathway through which such an effect occurs—and demonstrate that it works in animal experiments—makes it much more real.

Such research results are welcomed by Carmine Pariante, a professor of biological psychiatry at King’s College London. “All of these developments are exciting because we now understand the molecular pathways involved at the microscopic level,” he said.

He adds: ‘The idea that there is communication between the brain and the immune system is something we’ve known about for 50 years. However, when we suggest that physical health is due to things happening in the brain, people are told it acts “on the mind” – and they assume they’re being told that their physical problem is only “in the mind.”

“The more we can emphasize that the brain and body communicate through biological mechanisms, the more we can show that it’s not to dismiss things as ‘all in the head’, and we can treat patients more effectively.” through both the psychology and physiology of disease.’