Asthma and the mind

How powerful do your believe your mind to be? Perhaps you believe that the strength of your belief in the power of your mind determines how powerful it is? If that has turned your cerebral cortex inside out for a moment then while your grey matter returns to start point consider this; is the mind powerful enough to create disease when there is no organic or external cause? According to a new study the answer to that question is, “yes”.

”Psychosomatic” is a term indicating a link between the mind (psycho) and the body (soma). Many illnesses are regarded as having a psychosomatic cause and psychosomatic medicine is a flourishing field. The focus of this new study was a possible psychosomatic link for the respiratory condition we call asthma.

Asthma is a chronic lung disease and it is increasingly common. In Australia more than two million people have asthma; about 1 in 10 adults and about 1 in 9 or 10 children. It is a condition that features narrowing of the airways and difficulty breathing due to inflammation. The airways of people with asthma are hypersensitive and certain “triggers” and initiate a constriction of the airways. What these researchers wanted to establish was how much of a role anxiety (and expectation) might play in the process.

To do this they gathered people with moderate asthma and exposed them to a rose-smelling molecule called phenylethyl alcohol (PEA) for around 15 minutes. They chose PEA because it is detectable but it is regarded as “pure” and has no irritating properties. Half of the people were told that the odour they were about to detect may have healing properties while the other half were told that it could cause mild respiratory problems.

The results showed that the people told that the odour could be harmful rated it as being more irritating than the other group. Additionally, those told the odour might be irritating experienced immediate airway inflammation and the inflammation continued 24 hours later, even though the odour could physically not have caused that response. People told the odour might be healing did not experience airway inflammation.

There you have it, the power of the mind is vindicated once again. If you expect something to happen your mind can initiate real bodily changes or as the saying goes, “breathing is believing”.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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