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Delving Into the Mind-Body Connection Part I

Dr. Lance Luria says you can blame it on Descartes. The medical director for St. John’s Health and Wellness and executive director of the health system’s integrative medicine program says the French philosopher is responsible for the mind-body split…

"He didn't want to get into a fray with the church where the mind was considered immaterial. It was spiritual. It was nonphysical. And at that time they thought matter was everything. Matter affects matter, how can an immaterial thing, a spiritual thing, affect matter, so they made a decision to keep the church from coming down on them saying, 'scientists or doctors or those people involved in that area, you can take care of the body, but leave the mind to the church.'"

And Dr. Luria says we’ve kept that mindset. But the shift now is more towards a mind-body connection. He says the way we think can have an impact on our health...

"In theory, we have a lot of potential to heal ourselves. I'mnot advocating that if you get pneumonia to not take an antibiotic, but we have tremendous ability that affects our whole body just by how we feel and how we think, that these are informational molecules we call neuropeptides. They go everywhere in the body, and they can make the difference between your doing well and your not doing well."

An area of research called psychoneuro immunology focuses on the mind-body connection. Dr. Paul Thomlinson is a psychologist and vice president of research and QA at Burrell Behavioral Health…

"There's no question about it that our physical health is affected by our emotional and mental health."

For example, he says anxiety can increase heart rates and cortisol—the stress hormone, which is bad for your body over time. It can also increase blood sugar.At the same time, he says positive emotions can have a positive impact on health and healing.At St. John’s, the integrative Medicine Program includes medical massage therapists, an integrative pain medicine rehab specialist, guided imagery, meditation, a PhD nutritionist, collaboration with a chiropractor and exercise. A psychologist has been on staff, and St. John’s is currently in the process of recruiting another one who does hypnotherapy.In some cases, Dr. Luria says patients who utilized the integrative medicine program have been able to avoid major surgery…

"I have seen things that if I said to somebody, 'you know, I went up on this mountain and I spoke to this burning bush and I came back and here are these tablets, what a great idea' and people said, 'nah,' that's how I feel. I feel that I have seen something that absolutely has had benefit, tremendous benefit, it has been life changing for these people. And I think the feeling is, 'it was probably the placebo affect or just fluff.' The reality is that, by approaching the patient in a different way over time--it's not done in a week. It's not done in two weeks, there's several months invested--that somehow if you do that and approach the patient in all kinds of directions, there's this metamorphosis. There's this change."

He says with the way healthcare is going, integrative medicine will be a huge area because he says it’s cost effective.Burrell Behavioral Health and CoxHealth Systems were part of a five-year demonstration project on the integration of health and behavioral health. And Dr. Thomlinson says a family practice residency at Cox teaches physicians to look at the whole person rather than just their physical ailments…

"The thing about working with primary care physicians is that, when they're well-trained, as the folks here are, they really do try to work closely with a therapist or therapists they have relationships with that they refer patients to and work collaboratively with to help get them the care that they need."

According to the Rand Corporation, “most mental health care, especially care for common disorders such as anxiety and depression in the U.S. is provided by primary care physicians rather than mental health specialists.” Dr. Thomlinson says primary care physicians write more prescriptions for anti-depressant medications than psychiatrists. He says it’s important to discuss with your physician any emotional issues you’re dealing with that could impact your physical well-being.On the flip side, being diagnosed with a significant health problem can lead to emotional and psychological issues such as depression and anxiety. Dr. Luria says those with heart disease who are depressed do much worse than those with heart disease who are not depressed.St. John’s, he says, has a disease management program that incorporates wellness and is aimed at helping those with chronic diseases manage their illnesses.The bottom line is, our emotions can take a toll on our physical health. Dr. Deborah Cox, a psychologist with Family Psychology of Springfield, believes strongly in the mind-body connection…

"In some ways, when I back up from this issue, I almost think it's funny that we're having the conversation in the first place because it seems so obvious that mind and body are fused, they are one. It almost makes no sense to separate them, and yet, we do."

Learn more about the mind body connection and find out some reasons why those with mental illness on average have shorter life spans than those without as our SOC series continues this afternoon at 4.This program and others in our SOC Series are online at KSMU, I’m Michele Skalicky.