Bioregulatory medicine is a mind-body medicine, and as such focuses on the interactions among the brain, mind, body, and behavior, and the powerful ways in which emotional, mental, social, spiritual, and behavioral factors can directly affect health. The mind-body paradigm has been an integral part of most traditional medical systems such as traditional Asian medicine, Ayurveda medicine and Shamanistic medicine.
It was also noted by Hippocrates, who recognized the moral and spiritual aspects of healing, and believed that treatment could occur only with consideration of attitude, environmental influences, and natural remedies.
While this integrated approach was maintained in traditional healing systems in the East, developments in the Western world by the 16th and 17th centuries led to a separation of human spiritual or emotional dimensions from the physical body.
This separation began with the redirection of science, during the Renaissance and Enlightenment eras, with a new focus on trying to enhance humankind's control over nature. Technological advances developed and appeared to further separate the physical body and cellular world from the world of belief and emotion.
However, moving in full circle over the past 50 years, mind-body medicine has provided considerable evidence that psychological factors can play a substantive role in health as well as the development and progression of disease. From this line of inquiry developed the science of psychoneuroimmunology.
Hippocrates recognized the moral and spiritual aspects of healing, and believed that treatment could only occur with consideration of attitude, environmental influences, and natural remedies.
Psychoneuroimmunology is the study of the interactions among behavioral, neural and endocrine, and immune processes. The brain communicates with the immune system through autonomic nervous system and neuroendocrine activity. Both pathways generate signals that are perceived by the immune system via receptors on the surface of lymphocytes and other immune cells. Conversely, an activated immune system generates chemical signals (cytokines) that are perceived by the nervous system. In turn, the brain releases its own cytokines that signal the central nervous system to initiate a cascade of responses such as fever and listlessness that, theorists believe, help the body adapt by reducing energy output.
Psychoneuroimmunology researchers are, in fact, increasingly interested in cytokine activity because it represents an immune response that can go awry. Thus, bidirectional pathways connect the brain and the immune system and provide the foundation for behavioral influences on immune functions. For many years, the immune system was considered a stand-alone, autonomous mechanism. This, as we now know, is not the case. The brain speaks regularly and eloquently to the cells of the immune system and vice versa.
One of the major philosophical aspirations in contemporary consciousness research is to find a framework of explanation that can successfully address the problem of mind-body relations. Recent findings in psychoneuroimmunology have shown that somato-psychic mechanisms exist through which bodily stimuli are translated into neuropsychological events resulting in alterations in certain behavioral patterns.
How an individual interprets and responds to the environment determines responses to stress, influences health behaviors, contributes to the neuroendocrine and immune response, and may ultimately affect health outcomes. There are now enough data to conclude that immune modulation by psychosocial stressors and/or interventions can lead to actual health changes. Health psychology interventions are designed to modulate the stress response and improve health behaviors by teaching individuals more adaptive methods of interpreting life challenges and more effective coping responses. Positive and negative affective states probably create different neuroimmune responses in the body and thus influence health and recovery from illness. Two competing responses, the stress response and the relaxation response, counterbalance each other on an ongoing basis.
Psychoneuroimmunology researchers began their studies in the 1960s making associations between stress and immune functioning. In 1964, George F. Solomon coined the term psychoimmunology and published a landmark article: “Emotions, Immunity, and Disease: A Speculative Theoretical Integration”.
Robert Ader is widely considered to be the father of modern psychoneuroimmunology. His early research, involving conditioning in rats, opened the scientific inquiry for the study of brain-immune communication. Robert Ader and Nicholas Cohen's (1975) landmark article showed that immune function could be classically conditioned.
This report was viewed with considerable skepticism initially; in fact, several laboratories designed replications of the original experiment, assuming that the original data were erroneous. The reliability of the phenomena has now been demonstrated by several laboratories.
In 1981, David Felten made the next major discovery. He uncovered a network of nerves that led to blood vessels and, importantly, cells of the immune system. Felten's team found nerves in the thymus and spleen that terminated near clusters of important immune system components:
lymphocytes, macrophages and mast cells.
In 1985, Candace Pert, former chief of the Brain Biochemistry Section of the National Institute of Mental Health and co-discoverer of the brain's opiate receptors, found neurotransmitter and neuropeptide receptors on the cell walls of the immune system and the brain. This discovery showed that the communication chemicals of the nervous system could also speak directly to the immune system. What made this finding particularly fascinating was the discovery of neuropeptide links to the immune system.
Over the past 40 years, researchers have followed the footsteps of these researchers and have uncovered a large body of evidence explaining how the mind and body connect. Evidence from randomized controlled trials and, in many cases, systematic reviews of the literature, suggest that:
Mechanisms exist by which the brain and central nervous system influence immune, endocrine, and autonomic functioning, which is known to have an impact on health.
Multicomponent mind-body interventions that include some combination of stress management, coping skills training, cognitive-behavioral interventions, and relaxation therapy may be appropriate adjunctive treatments for coronary artery disease and certain pain-related disorders, such as arthritis.
Multimodal mind-body approaches, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, particularly when combined with an educational/informational component, are effective adjuncts in the management of a variety of chronic conditions.
An array of mind-body therapies (e.g., imagery, hypnosis, relaxation), when employed presurgically, improve recovery time and reduce pain following surgical procedures.
Neurochemical and anatomical bases clearly exist for some of the effects of mind-body approaches.
There is considerable evidence that many mind-body interventions have positive effects on psychological functioning and quality of life and may be particularly helpful for patients coping with chronic illness and in need of palliative care.
The articles listed here are a small sampling of the hundreds if not thousands of articles that have been published on the subjects Mind-Body Medicine and Psychoneuroimmunology.
Robert Ader is widely considered to be the father of modern psychoneuroimmunology.