I went to a peer review in medical research the other day that really got me inspired. The presenters were Dr. Beth Darnall and Dr. Heather Zwickey, and they presented research they had conducted on catastrophizing pain, and it's effect on the immune system. Catastrophizing is a cognitive distortion where an individual tends to focus on the worst possible outcome in any given situation. It turns out that thinking about our pain, particularly thinking about it getting worse actually DOES make it worse. There are certain signaling compounds that get stimulated just by thinking about pain that feedback into pain cycles. A handful of my patients deal with ongoing pain issues, and although many health professionals now believe that there is a connection between what we think and how we feel, we're now seeing the proof of the fact that the connection exists. Patients have been told for years that their symptoms are all in their head. In a way, the doctors have been correct, but what we need to account for now is the reality of these thoughts producing real symptoms.
It seems that people are either prone to catastrophizing or they're not. Women are more likely to catastrophize than men it seems. In addition, women are more prone to pain and (lucky us!) have more pain receptors than men. Also, as the amount of Estrogen decreases in the system (naturally during our menses and during menopause), the number of pain receptors actually increases.
The way that naturopathic medicine can be helpful in working with mind-body pain issues is via body work, lifestyle counseling, diet, and stress management, all helping the body to decrease inflammation . Homeopathy and flower essence therapy can also be extremely beneficial to help reprogram our thoughts to focus on healing and positivity. I urge anyone who has chronic pain to pay close attention to their thoughts around pain, health, and healing. Your mind may be the key to achieving wellness!