I read another great article from New Scientist today on the powerful force our mind exerts over our bodies:
In case you can’t access the article or are strapped for time – I’ll summarise the findings below:
- There are several well documented medical cases of patients reporting symptoms matching an illness yet having no physical signs of that illness e.g. epilepsy, stroke, asthma etc. The medical term ascribed is a “functional disorder”.
- These patients are not “faking it” – evidenced by the number of times they visit doctors to find a cure. “…Several studies showed that people with a functional tremor, for instance, had different brain activity compared with volunteers asked to fake a tremor…”. There is however a lot of scepticism and discrimination (understandably) in the medical profession towards these patients. Women are more likely to be belittled than men. The good news is that many doctors recognise it as a valid condition. All patients experiencing a functional disorder would like to “snap out of it” if they could know how.
- Estimates put the number of these types of “functional disorder” cases around 16% – which is surprisingly common!
- These “functional disorders” respond immediately to treatments like e.g. Botox for muscle spasms that should take days to work. This indicates that the mind or a person’s thinking is actually causing the disorder!
- New treatments for these disorders involve distracting the brain – “…functional symptoms tend to dwindle when people are distracted…”. Even stranger is that some people recovered fully simply by being told their diagnosis (provided they accepted it)!
- A theory on why functional disorders occur is even more interesting – “…we experience the world not as raw data arriving from our senses, but instead as a meld of this data with our predictions and expectations…in functional disorders, the circuitry goes wrong so that the brain places too much weight on these predictions, instead of the inputs from the senses. In someone who has functional blindness, for instance, the expectation of darkness overrides signals from the optic nerves. In someone who cannot move an arm, beliefs about their limb override the real nerve signals from the muscles…” Why our predictions go wrong is theorised as “…due to people paying excessive attention to the malfunctioning part of their body – whether consciously or subconsciously…”
The most interesting takeaway I gained from reading this article is the degree to which our mind can influence our health. The quote below sums this up:
“…Even those who aren’t ill can experience something similar as mind over matter. Just as negative expectations about part of the body can make it start malfunctioning, positive expectations have been shown to boost performance, increasing endurance in sport, for instance…The takeaway message is that the way we conceive our world is what constructs our conscious experience…Some of these predictions bring about the very thing you have predicted. You could harness that for good or for ill…”