September 28, 2022 Culture » Advice & Fun
Holistic Medicine and Your Power to Be Well
Editor’s note: This is the first edition of Dr. Joshua Phillips’ new column, which will appear quarterly here in the Columns section of the Source Weekly.
Our ability to heal from illness and remain in a state of health is legendary. We often take for granted our health and well-being, or when illness arises, we tend to look only at physical and physiologic issues as the problem. When it comes to health, all too commonly we tend to stay focused on diet, supplements and medications and exercise (which of course are all important), sometimes forgetting the impact mental and emotional well-being have on physical health.
At this point it might have become cliché, but without a doubt our emotional and mental states are informing every cell in our bodies and contributing vastly to all aspects of our physical health.
Before you brush this off as hyperbole, consider the following: Our endocrine (hormones) and nervous systems are responding in real time, every moment of the day, to both the environment around us, as well as our internal mental and emotional states. Hormones in our brain, our gut, our adrenals, etc. are constantly in flux, based on many factors relating to our experience of the world around us. This dynamic flux of hormones and nervous system input have a big impact on the function and physiology of every cell in our bodies.
Moving through life, for example, in a state that is primarily wrought with stress, anxiety or unhappiness lends to a hormonal and biochemical landscape that is more supportive of inflammation, a weakened immune system and to stress hormones that can contribute to many chronic health conditions.
Without trivializing the complexity that often accompanies dealing with stressful and serious circumstance in life, or complicated emotional states, we can also look toward some very fundamental aspects of the “mind-body” experience that support health and vitality. Building into our lives opportunities to bring just a little more levity, joy and light-heartedness can have tremendous impacts on our body’s capacity to heal and stay healthy.
Laughter, play and creativity are among the most reliable and important aspects of the human experience that hold promise for contributing greatly to health and vitality. These important and fundamental human experiences should be prioritized and added to every treatment plan we get from our doctors—both as preventative medicine, as well as for real health conditions we are dealing with.
Not surprisingly, a search into the body of research on laughter and play as medicine reveals a lot of evidence for the benefits of preventing and addressing illness. In fact, heart disease, which happens to be the leading cause of death in the U.S., appears to be closely connected to our mental and emotional state.
One study showed that individuals with heart disease were 40% less likely to laugh in a variety of situations, compared to people of the same age without heart disease. Conversely, a study on the National Institutes of Health PubMed server concluded that “daily frequency of laughter is associated with lower prevalence of cardiovascular diseases. The association could not be explained by confounding factors, such as depressive symptoms.” This study went on to suggest that “laughter is increasingly recognized for its potential health benefits, including ameliorating symptoms of depression, dementia, and insomnia. Several studies have reported beneficial effects of laughter on biomarkers, such as markers of immune function and blood sugar.”
Additionally, studies on hypertension (high blood pressure) suggest that study subjects that engaged in laughter, and another study that looked at the effects of playing and listening to music had a universally positive impact on blood pressure. One study showed up to a 10-point improvement of systolic and diastolic pressures solely from the experience of music and laughter.
The bottom line is that a truly holistic approach to health and well-being should always address not just the ever-important diet, exercise and medicine components, but also our states of mental and emotional health. Even during stressful or difficult times, we can stretch ourselves, prioritizing opportunities every day to laugh and play. Get creative, find some cheesy jokes to tell your partner, or watch some stand-up comedy that you know will make you laugh. Let yourself have that feeling, at least as often as is possible. Your body will thank you for it.
—Joshua Phillips, ND is a naturopathic physician and the director and co-owner of Hawthorn Healing Arts Center in Bend. He can be reached at his office for comment or inquiry about all aspects of holistic and mind-body medicine.
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