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  health > alternative > story page AIDSAlternative MedicineCancerDiet & FitnessHeartMenSeniorsWomen

Mind-body medicine for stress

June 2, 1999
Web posted at: 11:47 AM EDT (1547 GMT)

In this story:

Overspecialization vs. integration

Stress contributes to many illnesses

Ways to diminish stress


By Theresa A. Reed

(WebMD) -- Western medicine has long operated under the assumption that the mind and body are distinct and separate entities with limited effect upon one another. Western doctors apply this notion when treating illness or injuries with isolated methods that only focus on a specific ill or injured aspect of the body. Recent research in alternative medicine has contradicted this assumption. By treating the entire person -- body, mind and spirit -- researchers found that medical outcomes can be more favorable. Specific research findings in mind-body medicine offer interesting possibilities for treatment and prevention of a common condition: stress.

Overspecialization vs. integration

Conventional medical doctors are becoming increasingly specialized. Cardiologists, for example, focus on the heart and may be less likely to seek a mind-body approach to treating and preventing heart conditions. Such specialists may be more likely to treat existing problems with surgery or medication. Dr. Erminia Guarneri, medical director of the Scripps Ornish Program at the Scripps Foundation for Medicine and Science, believes that this hasty approach is an aspect of western medicine that must change.

"We have to look beyond the physical healing," Guarneri asserts. "We have to take a look at the whole person because the mental, emotional, and even the spiritual aspects of healing cannot be separated from the physical." This concept has overwhelming significance when considering how many Americans suffer from stress. Guarneri cites an American Institute of Stress report stating that 75 to 90 percent of all visits to health-care practitioners are due to stress-related disorders.

Guarneri refers to a study conducted by the Harvard University Medical School. The research findings indicated that heart-attack patients who learn to remain calm during emotional conflicts cut the risk of a second heart attack nearly in half. Similar studies by the Mayo Clinic concluded that psychological stress is the strongest indicator of possible cardiac conditions.

Stress contributes to many illnesses

Many patients with cardiac conditions experience stress. Stress can be treated with both alternative and mainstream, or Western, medicine. Because high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease are all aggravated by stress, it is important to find ways to deal more effectively and therefore prevent later health problems. A 20-year study of 730 heart disease patients showed that those suffering from depression were 70 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those were not. This research supports the argument for a connection between body and mind.

Ways to diminish stress

What can you do to tend to your mind, body and spirit as a whole? A memo sent out by the American Heart Association (AHA) may hold the answer. The AHA recommends that patients being treated for high blood pressure learn to combine their mainstream medical treatments with calming meditation. A study of African American men and women showed that those who meditated twice a day for twenty minutes experienced a significant decrease in blood pressure. Another study offered similar results in patients who had learned to use biofeedback. Support groups also appear to increase life expectancies. For example, heart patients who attend support groups for 90-minute sessions each week report noticeable health benefits.

Whether you choose a support group, have a confidante, engage in exercise, eat a low-fat or vegetarian diet, meditate, pray or use an alternative approach, there is also aid in the form of your healthcare provider. Remind your doctor to treat the "whole you" -- body, mind and spirit. As Guarneri contends, "This is truly the essence of complementary or integrated medicine -- to have the best of both worlds."

Copyright 1999 by WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.

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