In her presentation “Ancient Wisdom Meets Modern Science” at the Addiction Studies Conference sponsored by OSU Talbot House, Joan Borysenko, MD addressed the latest findings on mind-body medicine which ‘focuses on interactions among brain, mind, body and behavior including the effects of emotional, mental, social, spiritual, behavioral factors on health.” Borysenko has about 13+ books, and an illustrious career. She talked about epigenetics or cellular memory, and the human genome, interspersed with anecdotes from her travels to visit with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, and other experiences which gave the talk a personal and very tangible feel. As Borysenko explained, “Fifty trillion cells make up the human body; we have about 6 feet of DNA. In studying the human genome, we learn how genes can adapt to changes in the environment even though the actual structure of the genome, the genes themselves, don’t change.”
Here is what her website says about her background: “After graduating magna cum laude from Bryn Mawr College in 1967, Dr. Borysenko earned her doctorate in Medical Sciences from the Harvard Medical School, where she completed post-doctoral training in cancer cell biology. Her first faculty position was at the Tufts University College of Medicine in Boston. But after the death of her father from cancer, she became more interested in the person with the illness than in the disease itself, and returned to Harvard Medical School to complete a second postdoctoral fellowship, this time in the new field of behavioral medicine. Under the tutelage of Herbert Benson, M.D., who first identified the relaxation response and brought meditation into medicine, she was awarded a Medical Foundation Fellowship and completed her third post-doctoral fellowship in psychoneuroimmunology.” So, an incredible foundation for the research and teaching which was to come.
Borysenko addressed the ACE Study of Adverse Childhood experiences by Felitti and Anda (www.ACEstudy.org) which showed the link between childhood trauma and negative consequences later in life. “There are eight categories: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, addiction, incarceration, depression or suicide of a close family member, domestic abuse or violence in the home,and neglect which can contribute to the opposite of transformation. Physical health correlates 1:1 with emotional health. Stress is a direct contributor. For instance given 1 point for each of the above, a male child with an ACE score of 6 has a 4600% higher probability of IV drug abuse; with a score of 4 and higher the probability of CPOD rises by 390%, there is a higher probability of depression by 500%, and a score of 4 raises probability of suicide by 1200%.”
Another study Borysenko cited was on PNI and Stress by Janice Kielcolt Glaser and Ronald Glaser Phd [The Ohio State University] on the effect of stress which has been found to delay wound healing, impairs response to vaccines, impairs the ability to control herpes virus, and escalates pro-inflammatory cytokines. Emotional stress, depression and anxiety increase production of cytokines common in heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and aging.
Compassion and TLC are important in reducing IL-6 (inflammatory response) and cortisol levels while increasing HGH levels which induce and sustain self-healing mechanisms of the body.
One study she used to illustrate the importance of compassionate presence, revealed that antibodies in saliva against illness and virus rose in test subjects- just watching a film of Mother Theresa expressing compassion to children. Borysenko also cited research on the effect of loneliness and lymphocyte molecules released from cells in the limbic system- study by Candace Pert PhD. Social connection is important. Caring and compassion have a direct impact on the body/mind response, on health and healing. How one feels and thinks is interconnected with the body.
For Borysenko and her audience, a most important trait for those dealing with trauma or addiction is the ability to change one’s narrative by creating new meaning. She talked about interpersonal neuro-biology, that ‘the mind is that emergent self-organizing process that shapes how energy and information move across time. . . . The mind is not separate from the body.’ (from The Mind Sight Institute-Daniel Siegel MD). This is good news because it underscores the importance of good therapy and cognitive restructuring. Healing, hope and recovery are possible.
[Photo credit from Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 License, by Imagicity.com author Graham Crumb August 30, 2010]