Reduce Inflammation With Your Thoughts (Seriously)

A human brains with wings - free mind concept

Before you decide that I’ve completely gone off the deep end… let me explain why the headline “reduce inflammation with your thoughts” is not as far fetched as it seems at first glance.

It was not long ago when mind-body medicine was a fringe concept without a strong scientific foundation. However, in the last 20 years, the scientific literature on the subject has grown immensely and there is no longer any question that the mind can influence the body… and vice versa. A positive mental or emotional state really can affect the health of your body. Positive psychology can and should be a part of the treatment plan for virtually any medical problem. The mind and the body are not two separate entities, they are an interconnected whole…

I found an example of this interconnectedness in a new and fascinating bit of research recently published in a journal called Psychoneuroendocrinology. Before we look at the details of the study, let’s break down the name of the journal itself: Psycho-Neuro-Endocrin-ology: a journal dedicated to the study (ology) of the intersection of three previously distinct fields: psychology, neurology, and endocrinology. As we continue to explore the connections between body systems, the name of this journal can be expected to grow even longer and include virtually any other body system, as well. Our body is not a collection of different independent systems… it is a unified whole.

The study in question discusses how stress and anxiety are linked to higher levels of inflammation, and consequently, to higher levels of diabetes. The researchers studied a phenomenon called “inhibition” which refers to the ability to stay focused and on task. As the study authors explain:

“The executive function of inhibition (also known as attentional control or inhibitory control) is associated with the experience of stressful emotions such as anxiety. Inhibition is the ability to refrain from responding or attending to tempting/distracting information, objects, thoughts, or activities. Indeed, those who have low inhibition are more likely to attend to anxious thoughts, and have greater difficulty shifting their attention away from such thoughts, than those with high inhibition.”

People who have low inhibition tend to be easily distracted and will often react impulsively. They struggle with staying on task, tend to have poor stress management skills, and have difficulty being flexible when they encounter new challenges. If all of this sounds to you like a recipe for anxiety… you’re absolutely right.

To test the connections between inhibition, inflammation, and diabetes, researchers enrolled 835 participants. The cognitive abilities of the participants were tested, and they were asked to report their levels of anxiety. The participants also gave blood, which was tested for inflammation markers and glycated hemoglobin, a marker for blood sugar control and diabetes risk. On the results of their analysis, the study authors wrote:

“Individuals who perform poorly on measures of the executive function of inhibition have higher anxious arousal in comparison to those with better performance. High anxious arousal is associated with a pro-inflammatory response. Chronically high anxious arousal and inflammation increase one’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes.”

These results add to the mountains of data that prove the very real connection between the mind and the body. Better stress management skills (ie. higher inhibition) leads to lower inflammation and lower risk of inflammatory disease including diabetes. There is no question that stress management may be just as important as maintaining a healthy diet and exercise program when it comes to reducing the risk for chronic inflammatory disease.

– Dr. Joshua Levitt