Exploring the Mind-Body Continuum

Executive Summary

On Thursday, September 26, 2013, the fourth Dr. Rogers Prize Colloquium and Gala were held in Vancouver, British Columbia. Beginning in the afternoon, the Colloquium brought together thought leaders, innovators and stakeholders interested in exploring the mind-body continuum.

Three panellists presented their key findings during the course of the afternoon. Dr. Judith Moskowitz spoke about the mind’s effect on the body and the biological effects of positive emotions, Dr. John Gannage shared his thoughts on the Mind-Body Continuum from a nutrition perspective, and Dr. Jeffery Dusek spoke on the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer. The individual panellists are experts in their respective fields, and provided participants with an exceptional and well-rounded experience exploring the mind-body continuum and its applications to Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). Dr. Moskowitz began the panel presentations with a discussion of the impact positive emotions have on an individual’s health. Using her own research, and referring to a number of studies, Dr. Moskowitz noted that positive emotion is related to a lower risk of mortality, and that certain groups living with chronic disease (diabetes, HIV/AIDS, heart disease) have been shown to live longer if they experience positive emotion.

Dr. Moskowitz identified eight skills that increase positive emotion and reminded attendees that these skills are easy to do and learn, but the important thing is to implement some or all of them on a regular basis and make them a habit. This is the way to build resilience that reduces stress. The eight positive skills are:
  • noticing positive events
  • capitalizing on positive events
  • being grateful
  • being mindful
  • applying positive reappraisal
  • focusing on personal strengths
  • making and pursuing attainable goals
  • performing acts of kindness
Dr. John Gannage noted how important holism has become in the medical paradigm. He believes that CAM practitioners are starting to fill the gap that has recently existed in medicine around a holistic approach to health. Dr. Gannage spoke about underlying cellular processes (epigenetic changes, nuerotrophic disturbance, etc.) that damage cellular components and lead to cognitive and functional decline. He noted that in conventional medicine, these crises are dealt with through drug interventions whereas, with CAM, an integrative approach that involves nutrition and other modalities, not only addresses the crises, but can make a significant difference in overall health.

Dr. Gannage went on to talk about the relationship between the gut and the brain and how inflammation originating in the gut can affect other tissues, including the brain, which can change cognitive function, mood and emotion. He referred to a number of studies that implicate the gut and nutrition in changes to behaviour or health (such as gastrointestinal disorder being linked to autism or high glucose levels increasing the risk of dementia).

Dr. Jeffery Dusek has completed extensive research into the therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer and shared some interesting findings with conference attendees. His research project, STEP, focused on asking intercessors to pray daily for patients on a prayer list and include the intention “for a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications”. The control group did not receive intercessory prayer.

Dr. Dusek’s research was surprising in that it indicated that those who were certain they were receiving prayer actually had an increased complication rate. A number of theories have been presented to explain these findings - perhaps individuals felt overly-confident about their outcomes and did not put the same effort into maintaining their health or perhaps they felt more pressure to be well since they were being prayed for. The research was inconclusive, but interesting in that it indicates a clear mind-body connection. Dr. Dusek has since moved to studying how meditation affects gene expression.

The panel presentations concluded with a lively and informative question and answer period, in which astute questions from the audience further elucidated certain aspects of the panellists’ research. Dr. Gannage, questioned on the importance of bacteria to the body as well as glutathione supplementation and other treatment trends stressed the importance of the four Rs:
  • Removal of offending foods;
  • Replacement of digestive enzymes;
  • Replenishment of healthy bacteria;
  • Repair of the gut lining.
He went on to say that protection of the body’s antioxidant systems through avoidance of prooxidant stressors (such as mercury exposure in the diet) is the best way to augment glutathione and that correction of gut dysbiosis would likely have a beneficial effect on other tissues.

With regards to positive emotion and a question as to whether different positive emotions had different effects on health, Dr. Moskowitz referred to a recent study that found the hedonic positive emotions (those derived from pleasurable experiences) had a negative effect in terms of gene expression, while eudomonic positive emotions (those derived from meaning and purpose) had a positive effect. She went on to say that they had modified their program to focus on the lower activation of positive emotion - things like calmness, satisfaction, and happiness – rather than excitement and anticipation.

Other questions to the panel included how spirituality could be measured when researching the mind-body continuum. Both Dr. Dusek and Dr. Moskowitz were of similar mind. Dr. Dusek explained that given the inherent difficulties in measuring spiritual practice, a broader, more encompassing definition of spirituality as mindfulness was key and that “people need to practice what they can do” as opposed to researchers trying to determine or define which practice was beneficial for which condition. Dr. Moskowitz added that spirituality could not be prescribed and was not included as one of the eight skills for positive emotion, because people with a deep spiritual practice find positive emotion within their practice; and that the practice of gratitude is often already an aspect of that.

The panellists wrapped up the afternoon with a discussion on research itself. Dr. Dusek noted that, while randomized controlled trials were a careful way to answer a specific question, benefits to the field of integrative medicine were to be found in the opportunities to study what’s really happening and researchers needed to develop data to help people make the best choices available. He believes that people are taking more responsibility for their own health and that practitioners should be able to provide assistance as to what practices or treatments would have the greatest impact as opposed to a “try what you like” approach.

Dr. Gannage reminded the group that his own practice is based on research, patient preferences and his own experiences, and that in itself is true evidence-based medicine. In order to best treat his patients, he would like more functional research rather than a static picture. He believes a truly integrative hospital with a dedicated research arm would be beneficial.

While Dr. Moskowitz noted the importance of randomized control trials as the gold standard test in research, she would like to see funders become more open to different types of trials. She believes that alternatives to RCTs would allow for broader (and more actual) research and would allow studies to be completed more quickly.

The outcome of the entire day was a unique colloquium experience that covered a topic that is of great importance to CAM providers, but not often discussed at this level or with such a broad audience. Of utmost importance to all CAM providers is the conclusion drawn by all panellists through their own varied and unique research, that there is a strong mind-body connection and that stronger attention to how the body impacts the mind (and vice versa), can improve the health and well-being of individuals.