By Ralph Blum
Mark Scholz, MD, recently posted a blog reporting that harnessing the immune system to fight cancer is a rapidly advancing area of research and new drug development. As I don’t have Dr. Scholz’s scientific background, my take on how to utilize the immune system revolves more around mind-body-interaction—how our thoughts and beliefs can influence immune function, and how we can contribute in subtle yet significant ways to our own recovery process.
As I understand it, the immune system is the body’s equivalent of the Department of Homeland Security. Its primary task is to provide constant surveillance and, when necessary, seek out “terrorists”—defective and cancerous cells—and destroy them. However, when immune surveillance breaks down or is compromised, it is usually as a result of environment pollutants, poor diet, lack of exercise, and an array of emotional suppressors.
We can’t do too much about environmental pollutants, so apart from finding a medical team you can trust, and improving your diet and exercising regularly, I suggest, somewhat tentatively (I’m aware that mind-body communication is not a hot topic with most guys!), that you at least consider the possibility that what you believe and think and feel might manifest in your body.
There is a significant amount of anecdotal evidence to support the whole mind-body-connection theory. Pioneering research by neuropharmacologist Candace Pert, Ph.D., demonstrated that the mind and body are one interconnected system that carries information—via messenger molecules known as peptides and neuropeptides—from the brain to the body and then back again in a continuous feedback loop. Bernie Siegel, MD, summed up the whole amazing process in three words when he famously said, “Feelings are chemical.” And Deepak Chopra went one step further: “Every cell in your body is eavesdropping on your thoughts.”
Emotional-Chemical Text Messages
Whoa! I thought, what does all this mean? What it seems to mean is that we have a simple choice: through this complex interconnected system we can either send our immune system messages that evoke a positive biochemical response, or we can send messages that downgrade or even suppress immune function.
The most potent immune suppressor is prolonged emotional stress—unrelieved grief, unresolved anger and resentment, persistent feelings of fear, anxiety and hopelessness. All these toxic conditions, in varying degrees, transmit negative Emotional-Chemical Text Messages to the immune system.
On the other hand, we can choose to “romance” the immune system by sending it loving thoughts, messages of hope and peace and, above all, our gratitude for the amazing job it performs, and for all the good things in our lives. And we can further support it by staying, as much as we can, in the present moment—by letting go of past regrets and grievances and refusing to squander energy worrying about the future.
Laughter—the Best Medicine
My favorite immune booster and also God’s favorite music (or so I’ve heard), is laughter. Here’s how the Discovery Channel Web site describes the impact of laughter on the immune system: “When we laugh, natural killer cells which destroy tumors and viruses increase, along with Gamma-interferon (a disease-fighting protein), T-cells (important for our immune system) and B-cells (which make disease-fighting antibodies). Laughter may well be the ultimate antioxidant.”
Everyone I know who has done well in the cancer wars has, to some degree, supported their immune system by sending it positive messages. Three thousand years ago, King Solomon declared: “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.” As Dr. Scholz pointed out, the “wet part of the bones, otherwise known as the marrow, is the place where the immune system originates.” Score one for King Solomon!
So I do my best to avoid stressful situations. I eat sensibly and exercise at least semi-regularly. Above all, I laugh a lot, indulge in loving thoughts, and keep a editorial eye on the content of the Emotional-Chemical Text Messages I’m sending my immune system.
About Ralph Blum (1932-2016):
Ralph H. Blum was a cultural anthropologist and author, graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard University with a degree in Russian Studies. His reporting from the Soviet Union, the first of its kind for The New Yorker (1961—1965), included two three-part series on Russian cultural life. He wrote for various magazines, among them Reader’s Digest, Cosmopolitan, and Vogue. Blum has published three novels and five nonfiction books. He lived with prostate cancer, without radical intervention, for twenty years.