Tuesday, May 11, 2010

How Stress CAN Make You Sick

A lot of really cool information is coming out of a variety of sources that I think will help explain and prove phenomena that we have observed for a very long time. Take for instance the idea that traumatic events (The Four D's:death, divorce, debt, and disease) or War experiences, for that matter, can leave long term effects including an increased likelihood of illness following any of these traumas. Generations have known this to be so--"Don't get so upset, you'll make yourself sick" I used to hear. Now research from the Columbia University School of Public Health has come up with scientific explanations for why this is so.

Dr Sandro Galea and colleagues at Columbia were able to correlate Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with measurable changes in the genetic regulation of the immune system. Through a process of demethylation, cetain areas of the DNA that affect the immune system were found to be compromised in PTSD patients. Demethylation may cause genes to be unregulated and in this case, it may make a person more prone to disease. These findings were reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and are described on Scienceblog.

This is fascinating research because it begins to clearly link mental processes (PTSD) with those that have been traditionally considered physical (bodily illness). The lines are increasingly blurred between these two phenomena as we learn more about neuroscience and are able to quantify heretofore mysterious brain phenomena. It also helps to explain why some conditions-addiction, eating disorders, self-destructive behaviors, to name a few are really "wired" in the system at the level of the genes. As we continue to understand these connections better, diagnosis, treatment and prevention will improve. But perhaps most of all we will achieve a higher level of understanding of and compassion for conditions that we have deemed "all in our heads."

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