New Acropolis Articles

Psycho-neuro immunobiology

by Translated from the Spanish by Julian Scott

a science that explores the concept that the immune system is influenced by non-immunological physiological systems and the interplay between “mind” and “body”.

WHAT THE HEART WANTS, THE MIND WILL SHOW


The following is an interview conducted by the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia Digital with Dr. Mario Alonso Puig, a Medical Specialist in General Surgery and Gastroenterology, Fellow of the Harvard University Medical School and a member of the New York Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Until now, it has been said by enlightened beings, meditators and sages; now science is saying it too: it is our thoughts that have largely created and are continually creating our world. “Today we know that self-confidence, enthusiasm and hope have the ability to promote higher brain functions. The pre-frontal area of the brain, where the most advanced thinking takes place, where our future is invented, where we evaluate alternatives and strategies to solve problems and make decisions, is hugely influenced by the limbic system, which is our emotional brain. So what the heart wants to feel, the mind will eventually show”. That mind has to be trained.

I am 48 years old. I was born and live in Madrid. I am married and have three children. I am a general and digestive system surgeon at Madrid Hospital. We have to practise and develop flexibility and tolerance. One can be very firm with behaviour while being kind to individuals.

- What are your conclusions after more than 25 years practising as a surgeon?

- I have found that a person with dreams, commitment and self-confidence can go much further that one might expect from their background.

-Psychoneuroimmunobiology?

- Yes, it is the science that studies the connection between thoughts, words, attitudes and human physiology.

- What is it about?

- Several studies have shown that one minute spent entertaining a negative thought leaves the immune system in a delicate situation for six hours. Stress, that sense of being permanently overwhelmed, produces some surprising changes in the functioning of the brain and hormone constellation.

- What kind of changes?

- It has the ability to damage memory and learning neurons located in the hippocampus. And it affects our intellectual capacity because it prevents the blood supply from reaching those areas of the brain that are most needed to make sound decisions.

- Do we have the resources to fight the enemy within, or is that something only the wise can do?

- A valuable resource against worry is to focus the attention on abdominal breathing, which even on its own has the ability to produce changes in the brain. It promotes the secretion of hormones such as serotonin and endorphins and improves the harmonization of brain rhythms between the two hemispheres.

- You can change the mind through the body?

-Yes. We have to withdraw the focus of attention from those thoughts that are upsetting us, causing discouragement, anger or worry, and causing us to make decisions based on an inappropriate point of view. It is more intelligent, not more reasonable, to focus our attention on our breathing, which has the ability to calm our mental state.

- Are you saying we shouldn’t be reasonable?

- We always find reasons to justify our bad moods, stress or sadness, and that is a particular line of thought. But when we take as our starting point how we want to live, for example without sadness, then another line appears. The ‘what’ and the ‘why’ are more important than the ‘how’. What the heart wants to feel, the mind will eventually show.

- You’re exaggerating.

- When our brain gives a meaning to something, we experience it as the absolute reality, without realizing that it is only one interpretation of reality.

- What other resources do we have?

- Words are a form of vital energy. Using positron emission tomography, it has been possible to photograph how people who decided talk to themselves in a more positive way, specifically people with mental disorders, managed to physically reshape their brain structure, to alter the circuits that generated these diseases in them.

- Can we change our brains with good words?

- Santiago Ramon y Cajal, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1906, said something extremely powerful that at the time was thought to be metaphorical. Now we know that it is literally true: “Every human being, if he sets his mind to it, can be the sculptor of his own brain”.

- Are you sure you aren’t exaggerating?

-No. Depending on how we talk to ourselves we shape our emotions, which change our perceptions. The transformation of the observer (i.e. us) alters the process observed. We do not see the world as it is, we see the world as we are.

- Are we talking about philosophy or science?

- Words on their own activate amygdaloid nuclei. For example, they can activate the nuclei of fear that transform hormones and mental processes. Scientists at Harvard have shown that when a person is able to reduce that inner cacophony and enter into silence, migraines and chest pain can be reduced by 80%.

- What is the effect of unspoken words?

- We tend to confuse our points of view with the truth, and that gets transmitted: perception goes beyond reason. According to studies by Albert Merhabian, of the University of California (UCLA), 93% of the impact of a communication passes below the consciousness.

- Why is it so difficult for us to change?

- Fear prevents us from going outside our comfort zone, we tend to cling to the security of the known, and that attitude prevents us from realizing our potential. To grow you have to go outside that comfort zone.

- Most of the actions of our lives are ruled by the unconscious.

- We react according to certain automatisms that have become built into us. We think that spontaneity is a value; but in order for there to be spontaneity, there must first be preparation, otherwise there are only automatisms. I am increasingly convinced of the power of training the mind.

- Give me a clue.

- Change your thinking habits and train your integrity by honouring your own word. When we say "I am going to do this" and we don’t do it, we physically alter our brain. The greatest potential is consciousness.

- Seeing what is there and accepting it.

- If we accept ourselves for what we are and for what we are not, we can change. What resists persists. Acceptance is the core of transformation.