PsychoNeuroImmunology: Connecting Mind, Body and Spirit(uality), to Science & Medicine – Why Meditation Works



Written By: Dr. Made Wardhana

The term of Psychoneuroimmunology was coined in 1975, by Dr. Robert Ader, director of the division of behavioural and psychosocial medicine at New York’s University of Rochester. Dr. Ader believes that there is a link between what we think (our state of mind) and our health and our ability to heal ourselves. By conducted many study which showed that it is possible that state of mind or emotional state was affected the immune response that the system was responsibility to keep the human body healthy.

Today, an evolution of consciousness is taking place in the mind of scientific researchers in medicine, spirituality and the health sciences. This evolution is also apparent, to a degree, in the general society and has been so for the last fifteen to twenty years, if not longer. The results of this scientific progress are not as evident in the vast majority of society or with the majority of health care professionals. Research has deal with the role of the mind/body and spirituality in medicine. Many researchers are demonstrating the relationships (i.e., effectiveness of thought, thought transference, visualization, prayer and meditation) upon the biological, physiological, emotional and sociological nature of human beings. The unity of mind, body and spirituality is being recognized by some and continues as an active area of observation and investigation by many researchers.

The field of Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) explores how the spirituality or religious activity influence mind can does impact the body with involve a multitude of systems— the brain or nervous system, the endocrine system, and the immune system, all of them will affected organobiologic system such as; cardiovascular system, cancer, infection disease, allergic disease, etc. The positive impact of mind or emotional state will enhance the the immune system to combat when invaders enter the body. Disease as a result of imbalance and dysfunction of the immune system. Immune system consist of many pathway, both humeral and cellular, innate immunity and adaptive immunity. The concept that mind is important to regulate immune system. Since the 1960s, interaction of mind and body with popular name ‘Mind-Body Medicine’ and become an extensively researched field in medicine. Spirituality or religious commitment have important role in mind-body interaction. Relationship of mind-body and spirituality is powerful way of mental, emotional, behavioural and social factors can directly affect health.

This brief paper will try to explain with simple mechanism of connection between spirituality and mind-body, with quotation some scientific evidence.

Psychoneuroimmunology: Bridging Brain and Immune System
The field of PNI studies the measurable interaction between psychological and physiological processes. The psychological portion is the Psycho aspect, the central nervous system aspect is the Neuro aspect, there is an endocrine system aspect, and the body’s defense against external infection and aberrant cell division is the Immunologic aspect. A traditional view, still held by many scientists, is that the immune system is autonomous. That is to say that it is self-regulatory and functions separate and independent from the rest of the body. With the increasing focus on the relatively new science of (PNI) these old views are becoming less legitimate.

Underlying the beginnings of this infant discipline was the quest to identify biological links between the nervous system and the immune system. It must be kept in mind that until recently, it was believed that the immune system operated independently of any other system in the body. Because immune cells could function normally in the test tube. it was assumed that they were outside regulation by any internal or external factors.

Damage to the brain, specifically the hypothalamus and left cerebral hemisphere, was shown to damage the immune system. Similarly, vaccination, which stimulates an immune response was seen to accelerate the electrical firing of specific neurons (nerve fiber) in the hypothalamus (part of the brain that has important role to produce some substances). In other words, there was now anatomical evidence that the nervous and immune systems can communicate with each other. Further evidence came when it was demonstrated that cells of the immune system, the lymphocytes, have receptors for many of the chemicals synthesized in the nervous system. such as growth hormone, adrenalin and noradrenalin, prolactin, acetylcholine, substance P, endorphins, and enkephalins. Lymphocytes also can synthesize some of the same substances made by the nervous system, such as cortico-tropin and endorphins. Conversely, astrocytes, cells in the brain, can produce interleukin-l, an effector of immune reactivity once thought to be made only by the immune cells. Not only are there anatomical links between these two systems of the body, but they also share many of the same biochemical functions


The scientific evidence for the mind’s influence on the body comes from three converging areas of research:

• Physiological research that investigates the biological and biochemical connections between the brain and body.

• Epidemiological research seeks and demonstrates correlations between psychological, psychosocial factors and certain illnesses in the population at large.

• Clinical research tests the effectiveness of mind-body approaches in preventing, alleviating, or treating specific diseases. It relates the course of a patient’s disease and how effectively mind-body approaches can influence the course.

The general public has been demanding just such attention to their wholeness. Largely unassisted by conventional medicine, the public began searching for alternatives; now the scientific medical field is beginning to respond. Puchalski noted the Association of American Medical College’s recent requirements for graduation now include being dutiful and altruistic.

The Power of Spirituality in Enhancing Mind-Body Relations
Friedlander et. al. in a study of a Jewish population demonstrated a difference in the occurrence of myocardial infarction in the secular group as opposed to the Orthodox group. The secular group had a higher incidence of first myocardial infarction, than did the orthodox group. Goldbourt et. al. demonstrated in the prospective study of 10,059 males that the “most religious” (as categorized in the study) had a 20% decreased risk of fatal coronary disease compared with the “less religious” and non-religious group. McCullough et. al. analyzed 42 studies that comprised 126,000 participants. They found that religious involvement was associated with less cardiovascular disease or cardiovascular mortality.

In a nationwide survey reported in Behavior Today, 90% of Americans responded favorably to a question of their belief in God. Psychology Today survey found that 59% of churchgoers expressed dissatisfaction with organized religion and thought that some churches spend too much time on organizational issues and were too restrictive on morality. This Divine Essence links one to the other by its laws of continuity and communication. These aid in bringing health, harmony, and peace of mind to humanity. The Intelligence within each person is of this Divine Many researchers have been studying how spirituality, religious practice, yoga , meditation, japa meditation, hypnotism, beliefs, attitudes, and practices influence health. In a recent study on people with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), for example, people who had faith in God, compassion toward others, a sense of inner peace, and were religious had a better chance of surviving for a long time with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) than those who did not have such faith or practices. Research suggests that qualities like faith, hope, and forgiveness and the use of social support and prayer have a noticeable effect on health and healing.

The other study also indicated that they would like to have a deeper meaning to life. However research continues to reveal that “church participation” protects against such things as stress and some have attempted to demonstrate that illnesses are less and that life is prolonged. It is noted that these studies have limited their research to churches and their methodology of study to such factors as frequency of attendance and participation.

Banks delves even more deeply into this phenomenon called spiritual health and the dimensions it adds to the quality of life and health. She questioned health professionals, health educators, students and others working in health and medical fields. She concluded that 8 ideas are involved in the definition, among them are: an element that gives meaning and purpose to life, ethics and principles to live by; selflessness; caring and doing for others; a commitment to a supreme being; recognition of laws and powers beyond the rational yet being hazily known and which beacons faith; and the most pleasure-producing quality of humans.”

Spirituality, Diseases and Health Care Setting
Albert Einstein is quoted as saying that, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” It seems unusual that such a noted scientist should have such a strong conviction that religion was essential to the pursuit of knowledge and the betterment of the community when the far more common trend is for science to ignore, deride or pathologise religious and spiritual issues, a trend which seems to be well advanced in the medical and psychiatric realms.

Religion and spirituality are rarely mentioned in medical education nor are they generally seen as an integral part of a medical history or therapy, perhaps with the exception of a person with a terminal illness. Considering the evidence we have thus far about how related to health they are, this may be an oversight. Some of this evidence will be referred to below. It should be said that there is also a trend gathering momentum in some circles for scientists such as physicists (Einstein, Oppenheimer and Capra are good examples) to ask deeper questions relating to philosophy and meaning as well as merely mechanistic ones. Similarly, there are movements within psychology, psychiatry and physiology, perhaps more so since the time of reestablish connections with the spiritual dimension of the psyche. Physical medicine, however, seems to be still far from making any such shifts although promising fields of study like mind-body medicine and psychoneuroimmunology are challenging our materialistic ways of viewing health and illness and asking us to think a little more metaphysically.
Spirituality and religiosity are not the same although they are intimately related. Rigid definitions are fraught with danger but, generally speaking, spirituality refers to a range of things including having a belief in a higher being, a sense of purpose or meaning, connectedness to nature and humanity and perhaps even altruism. Religiosity, on the other hand, generally refers to things which are easier to measure such as participating a religious group, adhering to a religious creed or set of beliefs or merely attending ‘house of God’. Religious commitment is far more often referred to in the research because it is easier to measure than the less tangible spirituality. Spirituality obviously closely overlaps with religiosity although it is not difficult to conceive of a person being religious without being spiritual or spiritual without being religious. Related terms are intrinsic and extrinsic religiosity referring to a person’s core beliefs and attitudes compared to their group affiliations and attendance at church.

It would seem that the ignoring of religion and spirituality in health circles is not consistent with the evidence. Although other papers are coming out all the time, one comprehensive analysis of 77 references in 1998 demonstrated consistently that religious commitment was protective for both physical and mental health. It mattered little if the studies were prospective, retrospective, controlled for other lifestyle and socioeconomic factors or looked at prevention of, coping with or recovery from illness. Neither do the benefits seem to be restricted to any particular mainstream religion.

To illustrate, it was recently shown that religious commitment was associated with significantly quicker recovery from depressive illness and other physical diseases. Every point increase on the scale of religiosity increased the speed of recovery by 70%. A variety of reviews in the psychiatric journals have consistently confirmed that the vast majority of studies show a positive correlation between religion and mental health. Other data suggests that religiosity protects against drug and alcohol abuse, is associated with a four-fold reduction in suicide risk for adolescents, and also for the elderly. Reduced risk for hypertension, heart disease, cancer and other medical conditions have also been found. The protective effect of religious behaviour with relation to HIV/AIDS has already been mentioned.

Religion may well be associated with greater longevity. A recent review of 22,000 people over 9 year follow-up showed that the all-cause mortality was significantly reduced for regular church attenders. Life expectancy was 75 years for non-church attenders, 79 years for those who attended less than once per week and 82 years for those who attended at least once per week. The study controlled for other lifestyle and social variables and these only explained a smaller part of the differences. This is consistent with other data showing lower mortality over 28 year follow-up (Relative hazard 0.64 and 0.77 when controlled for other lifestyle and demographic factors) and better life expectancy and quality of life for those with the religious part of their lives active. That having been said, it would seem that not all forms of religiousness are healthy. We may well view ‘religious struggle’ as an indication of questioning and an active search for meaning, which is a good thing.

If religion can play an important role in enhancing mental health then it is probably through mechanisms delineated by mind-body medicine which explains how these psychological benefits translate into physical health benefits. Research is clearly showing that stress and negative emotional states are powerful catalysts for illness. Obviously, used wisely, religion can be a powerful source of healing for negative states of mind and emotion.

Harder to explain, however, are things such as the effects of prayer on health. Certainly there is a great deal of research on contemplative practices such as meditation suggesting that they are enormously beneficial for the health probably because of their anti-stress effects. Other studies on intercessory prayer, however, are a little more challenging. For example, the only two large scale well-controlled studies looked at the number of complications for patients in a coronary care unit who were prayed for from a remote location and compared them to controls who were not prayed for. Both studies showed significantly fewer complications in the group who were prayed for. The most recent study on this subject found a trend towards lower complications of heart disease in the prayer group but due to the numbers in this study it was not a statistically significant finding. A systematic review of the medical literature on prayer determined that evidence was still inconclusive because of the limited number of studies and further research was required in the field. The authors also concluded that because of the nature of the subject under investigation scientific understanding “may be beyond any such trials to prove or disprove.”

Another review of “distant healing” showed that, despite a lack of larger well controlled trials there was some evidence, albeit a little inconsistent, for other forms of healing including therapeutic touch, faith healing and Reiki. Most of the results demonstrated so far, however, are reductions in pain and anxiety and improvements in function. Grander claims such as tumour regression through prayer, therapeutic touch and faith healing have not been rigorously investigated thus far but some promising evidence on the role of meditation for cancer and other life-threatening illnesses is coming forth again probably mediated through reduction of the stress response.

The fact that religion and spirituality are pursued so universally would have to suggest that they are meeting a core human need for meaning and connectedness. They may also play an important role as potential remedies for painful psychological and emotional states, as a means of transcending illness and grief and as a way of explaining the inexplicable. There are probably as many ways to explore and express spirituality and religion as there are people and societies, although it may also be true to say that not every way works as well as every other. Many who might not otherwise consider themselves as spiritual may nevertheless express something of their spirituality in a philosophical or scientific search for knowledge, in humanitarian and altruistic pursuits or perhaps through the search for beauty and creativity.

As the last word, based on the evidence base and scientific finding that spirituality or religious activity enhance the immune response through state of mind emotional, mental toward to positively cellular and humoral response to combat many cause of disease, infection disease or degenerative disease. The model of this approarch to increased immunity function with the name complementary and alternative medicine.

Summary
Psychoneuroimmunology, referred as PNI, is the study of interactions between ones perception of the world around spirituality or religiousity, their behavior, the way their brain functions, and their immune system. The field of PNI studies the measurable interaction between psychological and physiological processes. The psychological portion is the Psycho aspect, the central nervous system aspect is the Neuro aspect, there is an endocrine system aspect, and the body’s defense against external infection and aberrant cell division is the Immunology aspect.

The fact that religion and spirituality are pursued so universally would have to suggest that they are meeting a core human need for meaning and connectedness. They may also play an important role as potential remedies for painful psychological and emotional states, as a means of transcending illness and grief and as a way of explaining the inexplicable. There are probably as many ways to explore and express spirituality and religion as there are people and societies, although it may also be true to say that not every way works as well as every other. Many who might not otherwise consider themselves as spiritual may nevertheless express something of their spirituality in a philosophical or scientific search for knowledge, in humanitarian and altruistic pursuits or perhaps through the search for beauty and creativity.

Thus immune respone for defend of human body keep healty not autonom, not only due to impact of immunologic system or body, but also under controling the spirituality or religious activity. For that reason holistic medicine with consider a spiritual aspect as a new approach of medical care setting. Psychoneuroimmunology is a branch od medical science that can explain relationship of mind-body and spirituality.

** This paper was presented at the International Conference on Science and Spirituality for World Peace held at the RIMS Jubilee Hall in Imphal on November 23-24, 2007. The writer is a doctor at the School of Medicine, Udayana University, Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia

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~ by 619 on March 17, 2010.

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