Data Backs The Connection Between Emotional And Physical Health

One of the foundational concepts of chiropractic is the connection between the brain and the body. This notion that the brain and body affect each other in profound ways is cemented into our everyday practice. Yet for the most part, western medicine has been a little slower to embrace the connection between mental, emotional and physical health. Therefore, it’s encouraging that more and more recent studies are starting to show a high correlation between emotional distress and primary care visits.  

It’s hardly shocking information for us in chiropractic, which has always espoused the holistic nature of the body, and the beauty of this body of work is that the numbers paint a compelling picture.  

Psychology Today reports that approximately 80% of primary care visits result from emotional distress, and that another recent study demonstrated that workplace stress “accounted for up to 38% of differences in longevity across workers in different professions [1].”

The inference is clear. Stress kills.

Psychology Today also published a rather concerning finding from the Boston Deaconess Hospital. “Only 3% of non-psychiatric physicians teach their patients stress management techniques [1].” This led them to ask a very valid question: “Why is there such an enormous disconnect between the root cause of many illnesses and the way doctors treat patients?”

An analysis of Google trends over the course of a decade showed a correlation between depression or bipolar disorder and a vast range of other illnesses. Another study cited by Psychology Today made note that 65% of patients with mental disorders also suffer from one or more ‘medical’ problems [1]. Which comes first? The physical illness or the mental illness? This remains to be seen.

“Even if it turns out that mental illness predominantly grows out of physical illness, not the other way around, such statistics suggest a very strong mind-body linkage, that, at a minimum, indicates that mental health should figure prominently in treating physical illness. And vice versa. Surveys of mental health care show that psychiatrists often under-appreciate and under-diagnose physical causes or triggers of emotional and behavioral problems.”

“Dr. Ryan Hall of the University of Central Florida has found that as many as 47% of problems for which patients seek treatment have a physical cause. So whether mental problems cause physical diseases, or physical diseases cause mental problems (or both), it appears likely that psychiatrists are underestimating the importance of medical illnesses, and primary care doctors are underestimating the importance of mental problems [1].”

The point of raising all of this is not to critique the allopathic system of sickcare, but rather to point out that data backs our paradigm: mental and physical health are inextricably connected. Place stress on one and the other will follow. We’ve long known it. Now data backs it.

Dr. James Chestnut, in his book ‘The Wellness and Prevention Paradigm’ speaks at length on the impacts of sustained stress on the sympathetic nervous system, the adrenals and the rest of the body. He states simply that “the reason humans, and every other species, move away from a state of health is because we are exposed to stressors that originate from the external, rather than the internal, environment of our cells.” That is, that stress moves us into a state of adaptive physiology where we must respond to the challenge around, that even our mental attitude or state can affect this change.

It’s a concept that appears to be gaining traction in the world of allopathic medicine and research. In fact, Harvard [2] has just announced a new centre which will be devoted to the study of how ‘being happier can make people healthier.’

The goal of the center is to advance scientific understanding of the link between a positive mindset and a positive social environment — things like close relationships with family and friends, a meaningful job, healthy exercise, enjoyable hobbies — with good physical health. Likewise, researchers hope to understand how negative social and mental circumstances — such as poverty and lack of relationships or meaningful employment — can impact health or longevity. Harvard scientists hope that the center’s findings will eventually help influence health practice and policy.

We can’t wait to see what emerges from the centre. In the meantime, big data already available is telling us that focusing on stress, and the connection between mental, emotional and physical health, is a worthy pursuit indeed.