These tests were conducted on hamsters, and when these hamsters were in the presence of other hamsters they produced less of the stress hormone cortisol and healed twice as fast as those who were in isolation (who produced far more of the stress hormone cortisol.) It appears that stress delays healing through the production of stress hormones. When these stress hormones are present, healing potential is diminished, and we know from other studies that chronic stress suppresses the function of the immune system. Apparently, not only is stress a critical determining factor in the wound healing rate in hamsters, but engaging in social interaction seems to be a fantastic way to reduce stress and create an environment that supports healing.
So what does all of this have to do with you and me? Even though the research was conducted on hamsters, the primary conclusions are fundamentally true with human beings. Both hamsters and human beings are mammals, of course, and the reason these tests are being conducted on hamsters is because they are biologically similar to humans. They have the same organ systems -- such as the adrenal glands -- which produce the stress hormones just as they do in human beings. Hamsters are also highly social, which makes them especially appropriate for this sort of study.
What this is showing is that wound healing is not simply a technical science. It's not merely having the right chemicals in the right place in the right time. There's also a mind-body connection when it comes to healing wounds and supporting the proper immune function of the human body. A person needs social interaction, and they need friends and family around in order to heal more quickly.
Unfortunately, this is not happening much in our modern medical system. If you think about hospitals, patients are usually kept in isolation. In fact, hospitals go to great lengths to isolate patients from each other by using curtains and walls and doors and other physical barriers. Of course, this is often necessary to reduce the spread of potentially contagious bacterial infections, but at the same time, we should recognize that this degree of isolation actually suppresses the wound healing ability of human beings.
Patients whose families visit them will no doubt heal much more quickly than those who have no visitors. The social interaction will lower their stress levels and accelerate their healing speed. It's also interesting to note that nursing homes and retirement centers are in many ways social environments that support the patient's healing ability -- but only if they are good nursing homes. In nursing homes where patients are kept isolated, and where families don't visit and there are few social opportunities, patients will no doubt heal very slowly from various wounds and immune system attacks. But when there is ample opportunity for social interaction, family visitations, and other forms of engagement with human beings, patients no doubt heal much more quickly.
The journal in which this is published, Psychoneuroendocrinology, is an interesting journal that attempts to explore the links between the mind and the body. In fact, the term psychoneuroendocrinology really means mind-body medicine. It's just a more technical way to say it. For decades, mind-body medicine has been ridiculed by western medicine. Even to this day, there are many old-school doctors who believe that the mind has absolutely no role whatsoever in health or healing. Such a belief is, of course, absurd. The mind is intricately tied with the body in determining the body's reaction to wounds and bacterial invasions (among other health compromising situations).
The field that studies the interaction between the mind and the immune system is of course called psychoneuroimmunology, and this is a fascinating field of emerging knowledge that attempts to document the links between the mind and the immune system. As it turns out, these links are very, very strong, and patients who exist in an environment that supports healthy brain function and engage in social interaction, brain exercises, exposure to natural sunlight, and so on, universally demonstrate stronger immune systems as well. In fact, it can be accurately stated that one of the best ways to support your immune system is to make sure you have a healthy mind and brain.
A final point of interest in all of this is the fact that most Americans exist in a state of chronic stress. It's little wonder that their immune systems are so depleted and they are unable to quickly heal from wounds and bacterial infections. Not only is chronic stress a fact of life for most Americans, but the vast majority of people in civilized nations also suffer from nutritional deficiencies that inhibit the healing response of the human body. They eat extremely unhealthy foods, such as junk foods and fast foods, they consume ingredients that strip nutrition from their bodies, such as refined white flour and high-fructose corn syrup, and they fail to supplement their diets with nutritional supplements that enhance human health and immune system function. Those supplements include vitamins, minerals and trace minerals, medicinal herbs, and of course, superfoods.
So you put all of this together, and add on a heaping dose of chronic stress through commuting, relationship difficulties, work problems and financial challenges, and it's a wonder that people can heal their bodies at all. In fact, it is a testament to the miraculous healing potential of the human body that it can overcome these incredible anti-healing forces and yet manage to accomplish healing milestones on even on the most diseased bodies in our society.