Women's Health South Africa
Head Start Image Credit: Women's Health South Africa
Head Start Image Credit: Women's Health South Africa

Head Start

Allergies and depression. Heart attacks and panic attacks. The links between physical and mental conditions are more intimate, more complicated and more powerful than once imagined. Here’s how to protect yourself holistically.

Laura Tedesco

The phrase “mind-body connection” can feel ambiguous, even woo-woo, something to be reconciled during yoga class. But emerging science is now bearing out physiological connections between many seemingly unrelated mental and bodily issues – many seemingly unrelated on the surface. And it can go both ways: mental-health issues can lead to physical ones and vice versa.

This new research is a revelation because, until the past few years, the interplay between mental and physical was often chalked up to a behavioural domino effect (e.g. you binge-eat because you’re depressed, then the extra weight ups your diabetes risk). Now experts realise it’s governed by a far more complex mix of factors. Inflammation, the immune system’s natural response to threats, is a biggie: if this healing process fails to shut off after a problem has been neutralised, immune cells continue to attack healthy ones. That can lead to serious health conditions and an overactive nervous system, where mind and body ping-pong distress signals to each other.

The research is even more relevant given that roughly one in three South Africans suffers from a mental disorder and chronic conditions, like heart disease, are on the rise. The only way to get – and keep – people well is to treat the mind and body as two parts of a whole, says Dr Erika Saunders, a professor and chair of psychiatry at Pennsylvania State University in the US. “That’s w

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