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