If I were to say that emotions play a role in disease, you would agree. If I said that emotions cause disease, some of you would agree. Now, If I said this to your physician, I’d get the equivalent of a blank stare. He wouldn’t deny it outright, but he could not bring himself to accept it either.
Emotional causality is outside the accepted paradigm of the world of pharmaceutical medicine. In spite of hundreds of studies establishing the role of emotion as in fact, causal, doctors who above all, claim to be scientists, cannot, will not, accept the scientifically established proof of their own research. Emotions cause disease. As a dodge, they’ll accept it as “one factor among others.”
Dr. Gabor Mate` M.D. has been on a crusade to get his fellow physicians to heed their own research. He is not bringing new ideas to the table. He is simply trying to get doctors to accept what their own researchers have been telling them for a long time – “When emotions are repressed, this inhibition disarms the body’s defenses against illness.” There is compelling evidence that, “an intimate relationship exists between the brain and the immune system.”
Dr. Mate` is a pretty good speaker. Yet when he talks about emotion causing disease to a group of physicians, he will often be greeted by silence. They don’t exactly disagree, nor do they respond with facts and contrary opinions, they simply are unable to respond! His premise is so far outside the bounds of what they have been trained to believe, that these incredibly intelligent and otherwise competent physicians are simply at a loss as to what to say – at least publicly. Much of the rest of this article is taken from Dr. Mate`s book, When The Body Says NO. Exploring The Stress Disease Connection.
Millions of you will go to these same physicians seeking help for your diseases, but you will only get your symptoms treated. And treating symptoms is necessary, but only a partial solution to your problem. But you’ll go home feeling confident that your disease has been treated. And that takes us to the heart of the problem: pharmaceutical physicians are not trained to deal with the causes of disease, they basically treat symptoms.
Going to the cause of disease requires an entirely different perspective and techniques and pharmaceutical doctors are simply not trained for this. And I want to be very clear, if you have a heart attack or cancer, you want these folks to treat you! They are great at that sort of thing! But, what is not talked about is that a heart attack or cancer are symptoms of a deeper emotional disharmony. And, if that disharmony is not addressed it will simply manifest elsewhere in the body.
A story: Estaban takes his mule, Emily to the vet. She is lethargic and can’t pull the cart like she used to. He tells the vet that he thinks her hips and knees are bothering her. So the vet examines her and injects her with cortisone and pain killers to help her inflamed joints. Then when the vet’s assistant brings Emily out to hitch her back up to her cart, he is astonished by the burden she’s expected to pull. “My God,” he says, “no wonder her knees and back are shot!” Had the vet seen the whole problem, his treatment might have been more extensive. And that’s the problem with only viewing symptoms and not seeing the whole picture.
In one of Plato’s dialogues, Socrates quotes a Thracian doctor’s criticism of his Greek colleagues, “This is the reason why the cure of so many diseases is unknown to the physicians of Hellas; they are ignorant of the whole. For this is the great error of our day in the treatment of of the human body, that physicians separate the mind from the body.” And so it has been for over 2,500 years.
As far back as 1892, Dr. Wm. Osler, one of the greatest doctors of all time, suspected that rheumatoid arthritis was a stress related disorder. Typical of many persons affected with rheumatiod disease is a stoicism carried to an extreme, a deeply ingrained reticence to seek help, perfectionism, a fear of one’s own anger, denial of hostility and strong feelings of inadequacy. Osler’s insightful perspective was simply ignored. As recently as 1985, almost a century later, an editorial in the august New England Journal of Medicine proclaimed, “ . . it is time to acknowledge that our belief in disease as a direct reflection of mental state is largely folklore.”
Dr. Mate` writes, “Research has suggested for decades that women are more prone to develop breast cancer if their childhoods were characterized by emotional disconnection from their parents or other disturbances in their upbringing; if they tend to repress emotions, particularly anger; if they lack nurturing social relationships in adulthood; and if they are the altruistic, compulsively caregiving types.”
In one study, researchers psychologically profiled patients admitted to hospital for breast cancer biopsy. Using only psychological profiles, they successfully predicted the presence of cancer in 94 percent of the cases! In another study, 40 cases with breast cancer were mixed with 40 controls who did not have the disease and again, using emotional profiles alone, researchers were able to identify the cancer victims with a 96 percent accuracy! Repression of anger increases the risk of cancer for the very practical reason that it magnifies exposure to physiological stress. In this case prolonged exposure to the very potent hormone, Cortisol.
“A large European study compared 357 cancer patients with 330 controls. The women with cancer were much less likely to recall childhood homes with positive feelings. As many as 40 percent of cancer patients had suffered the death of a parent before they were 17.”
Dr. David Kissen, a surgeon, found that patients with lung cancer had a tendency to “bottle up” emotions. A number of studies have subsequently found that people with lung cancer “have poor and restricted outlets for the expression of emotion . . .” The risk of lung cancer is five times higher for men who lack the ability to express emotion effectively.
Researchers conducted a ten-year study of the population of the whole town of Cvrenka, Yugoslavia. During the ten years, of the 600 people who died, cancer incidence was 40 times higher for people classified as “rational and anti-emotional.” Instead of one death per 100 people, the rate was 40 per 100!
At the University of Rochester, a fifteen-year study of people who developed lymphoma or leukemia reportedly found that those malignancies were “apt to occur in a setting of emotional loss or separation which in turn brought about feelings of anxiety, sadness, anger or hopelessness.”
Japanese men who migrate to America experience two and a half times more prostate cancer than men who remain in Japan. The evidence for the difference points to stress. American black men experience prostate cancer at a rate six times higher than black men in Nigeria. Regarding patients with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), there is a high incidence of emotional and physical abuse in the histories of patients with intestinal diseases and especially those patients with IBS.
In 1946 Johns Hopkins undertook a long term study of its medical students. Over the next 18 years, 1,130 former medical students, were studied. Colo-rectal cancer patients and suicide cases were more likely to demonstrate denial, repression of anger and other negative emotions while maintaining the appearance of a “nice” or “good” persona and suppressing reactions which might offend. They avoid conflict.
Dr. Cai Strong is an internationally known researcher at The University of British Columbia. He says about Alzheimer’s, “I am convinced that Alzheimer’s is an autoimmune disease. It is probably triggered by chronic stress acting on an aging immune system.”
I could go on for pages listing other research studies. Their number is legion, but you get the point. Unfortunately, your doctor, in all probability, does not.
Dr. Mate` writes that, “Emotional repression is also a coping style rather than a personality trait set in stone. Not one of the many adults interviewed for this book could answer in the affirmative when asked the following: ‘When, as a child, you felt sad, upset or angry, was there anyone you could talk to – even when he or she was the one who had triggered your negative emotions?’ In a quarter century of clinical practice, including a decade of palliative work, I have never had anyone with cancer or with any chronic illness or condition say yes to that question.”
To simplify: What we know is that physiological stress is the link between beliefs about oneself and disease. Certain traits, called coping styles, magnify the risk of illness by increasing the likelihood of chronic stress. Common to them all is a diminished capacity for emotional expression. Emotional experiences are translated into potentially damaging biological events when we are prevented from learning how to express our feelings effectively. The learning occurs – or fails to occur – during childhood.
One of the reasons this is so important is that as Dr. Mate` says, “Disease frequently causes people to see themselves in a different light, to reassess how they have lived their lives.” This is the gift of disease. It challenges us to change how we see ourselves. It is the final challenge in a life of denial. If we only treat it’s symptoms, we deny ourselves the opportunity to learn and grow from it and secondly, insure that the learning will come in some other, more devastating, way.
If your doctor is not familiar with Dr. Mate`’s book, When The Body Says NO. Exploring The Stress-Disease Connection, you might get a copy for them. You’ll be doing both of you a favor.
copyright©Blue Lotus Press 2016