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Originally published July 19 2008

The Mind-Body Connection: Fear Manifests in Many Diseases (Part 1)

by Cathy Sherman

(NaturalNews) The wheelchair bound patient was sure she had Parkinson's Disease, but by the end of one session, she was jogging down the hall. A man dies of cancer, yet the autopsy showed there were not enough cancerous spots in his body to have killed him. A priest administers the last rites to the wrong patient, and that patient dies unexpectedly.

These patients all had different diagnoses, yet they were all affected by the same cause. It has been proven that fear can cause disease, and even death. Though this idea is not new, our understanding of it is progressing because of new technologies that give us a window into the brain.

The underlying ancient concept, formalized decades ago by Dr. Robert K. Merton, can be found in Greek mythological stories and elsewhere. Merton further refined its definition and named it the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. According to this construct, once a prophecy or fact is predicted, events are set in motion that work together to bring it to pass. These events can occur within a person's psyche or develop as part of the situation from which the prophetic statement sprang.

The most recent refinement of this concept has been made by the alternative branch of medicine. Specifically, the practitioners and advocates of mind-body studies have conducted research which goes far beyond the placebo effect. It has been accepted by many that if a patient believes they are receiving medicine, its expected effects will actually take place in their bodies, even if their medicine is nothing more than sugar made to look like a pill.

The field of hypnosis is one area in which this power of suggestion is taken further. Brain scan technology has shown that the same area of the brain becomes activated during an actual experience and during an imagining of that experience. It can be documented that if a person is told under hypnosis that a red-hot iron is touching their skin, the person's body somehow produces a blister on their skin, even if the iron was not hot at all.

Medical doctors will admit that a large percentage of illness is caused by stress. Stress derails the work of cytokines, the agents of the immune system that respond to a wound site. The derailment causes these cells to overreact and create an inflammatory response that is over the top, often creating a greater disorder than the original wound.

Since 1961, the term "nocebo phenomenon" has been identified. According to this reverse placebo effect, a patient will become sick or sicker after being told of negative side effects, or on being informed of specifics about an illness just diagnosed.

Research has demonstrated this effect. In one experiment, 66% of the volunteers complained of headaches after being told an electric current was applied to their heads. In actuality, no current was really applied. In another study, women holding the belief that they were prone to heart disease died at four times the rate of those who didn't hold such a belief, even though they all started out with the same risk factors.

However, now we know that stress is not always involved in the development of a mind-body illness. In the Parkinson's case previously mentioned, the patient was misdiagnosed with Parkinson's after falling and developing an inability to walk, which wasn't related to her injuries. After being convinced by another physician that the problem was in her head, not her legs, she was able to get out of the wheelchair and walk with help, then even jog with no other assistance than a handrail.

Many researchers have studied the fear of aging and documented that those who believe their memories will soon fail actually undergo memory problems sooner than others in similar condition, but minus the belief. In cultures which value the aged, mental ability does not deteriorate until much later, if at all, than in societies where people are defined as elderly at age 65. If people live in an environment which views aging as disease, such as that of an assisted living facility, they will age faster than those who live in a mixed-age community where they are not expected to act differently just because they are over 65.

The most exciting news about the mind-over-matter phenomenon comes from a cell biologist who has evidence documenting just what biochemical mechanisms facilitate it. Bruce H. Lipton, PhD, challenges the traditional cell theories which basically define cells as inflexible, created to do only one job or job type. Instead, he considers them as robotic, like computer chips in a computer, in that they can be reprogrammed to take on different jobs.

Cells are built to act on their own, and they can even live independently, in a laboratory environment. But in a community environment, once it becomes integrated, the cell's individuality becomes subjugated. The community as a whole receives operating messages from the life force, not the individual cell.

The cell director, the power behind the reprogramming -- the life force -- is the person. It is the information-receiving process, as messages are sent to the cell for action, that determines the cell's behavior, not some built-in, fixed programming. Simply stated, there is no cancer gene; illness is not inherited. Rather, cells become cancerous because they were told to do so. Fear is often the operative that drives such instruction.

For example, doctors today push all the new diagnostic toys they possess and encourage patients to have mammograms, colonoscopies, etc., with the explanation "we tell everyone of this age to get one, because such and such a percent of people this age will get" cancer, polyps etc. Combined with this are the incessant magazine and TV ads for pharmaceuticals purporting to treat the various maladies.

Such seeds sow fear in people's minds, consciously or subconsciously. Where previously the person hadn't even considered the possibility of colon cancer, now he or she starts worrying about it. Every little abdominal pain feeds the worry. Lipton says that the current high rates of colon and rectal cancers are linked with the amount of information in the media that there is a high rate of colon and rectal cancers.

Evidence for the above process goes back to studies done in the 1920's. Dr. Walter Cannon, a Harvard University professor, coined the term "homeostasis" to describe the organism's need for mental and physical balance throughout the organism. His research resulted in the acceptance of the "fight or flight response."

Hans Selye added to Cannon's discoveries by studying animals, finding that under different mental and physical stresses, their bodies adapted and returned to a situation of healing and recovery. During the adaptation process, Selye discovered that the thymus and other major organs of the immune system actually shrank. If the environmental stresses continued, the immune system did not recover and the animal became overwhelmed and died.

More recent research by Candice Pert, a neuropharmacologist, explained the workings of neuropeptides, the chemical messengers that are essential to the mind-body relationship. She found them on both the brain's cell walls and on those of the immune system. Their presence in both demonstrates their close relationship, which means the brain and emotions are closely related to the immune system as messages are transmitted back and forth.

Pert also showed how the endocrine system with its hormones plays a part. Simply put, as long as it is all balanced, health is maintained. But, as Cannon showed, once a stressor causes an emotional imbalance, the immune system suffers and disease can overcome it.

According to Matthew J. Loop, DC, an advocate for the Law of Attraction, there is another explanation. The negative side of the usually positive Law of Attraction is explained by the concept of acidity/alkalinity. An alkaline condition in the body is considered more healthful. Negative thoughts and stressfulness cause the balance to tip to acidity. Therefore, illness often happens.

Remember the lady in the wheelchair? She demonstrates that there is good news: the mind-body relationship can also work in a positive direction. A future article will discuss such ways brain chemistry can be changed to bring healing in body and mind.


Desonta Holder, "Does the Fear of Dying Become a Self-fulfilling Prophecy for People?"; Oakland Tribune, Nov 12, 2007

University of Rochester Medical Center (2005, October 10). "I Think, Therefore I Fall". ScienceDaily, (

Jere Daniel, "Learning to Love Growing Old - Fear of aging speeds the very decline we dread most". Psychology Today, Sep/Oct 94.

"Cell Consciousness � Proves Mind Over Matter", (
Jay Quinlan, (

Matthew J. Loop, DC, "The Secret Law of Attraction Makes you Healthy and Rich". Posted on March 7, 2008 on (

About the author

Cathy Sherman is a freelance writer with a major interest in natural health and in encouraging others to take responsibility for their health. She can be reached through

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