Optimism and healing

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
March 13, 2008 3:29:10 PM PDT
A new study says a cheery disposition can go a long way and lead to a longer life. With more, Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg.

The field of mind-body medicine is a popular and important one and there is growing evidence that what goes on in our heads could influence what goes on in our bodies. Another study today addressed that issue.

Can a person improve their health by the way they think about it? It has been an intriguing question in medicine for a while.

Peter Mastroianni has had a heart condition for some time and just today he had a new procedure done at the Montefiore Medical Center.

Mr. Mastroianni is young, early 50's. He also describes himself as an "optimist," optimistic about what is ahead for him. Peter Mastroianni is recovering heart patient.

"I'm trying not to think about the complications," said Peter Mastroianni. "It'll be great if I can do my job easier, have more energy and feel good about what I need to do, want to do."

And that attitude will help him, says a new study by researchers at Duke University.

They studied almost 3,000 patients with heart disease and evaluated their attitudes and expectations.

"If you were more optimistic in your outlook, you have less of a risk of death following in the population they followed," said Dr. Simon Rego at Montefiore Medical Center.

In the study, the subjects who were classified as pessimists by a questionnaire, were twice as likely to die than those who felt more optimistic, independent of other factors like how sick they were.

Dr. Simon Rego and Katherine Muller are clinical psychologists working with patients at Montefiore Medical Center. They've seen similar findings in other studies.

"That positive outlook we think affects how their actual physical health becomes," said Dr. Katherine Muller at Montefiore Medical Center.

Some experts theorize that optimistic patients take care of themselves better keeping doctors appointments, making necessary lifestyle changes and following their care carefully.

But another school of thought is that thinking positively actually affects the body by lessening the effects of stress.

Many cardiac patients experience depression and that, says Dr. Muller, can be treated. Many patients can also be taught through therapy to change their thinking.

"To see problems and challenges as temporary, transient and able to be coped with," said Dr. Katherine Muller.

Interestingly, in cancer patients, a positive outlook has not changed outcomes. Heart conditions are stressful, so taking into account a person's emotional state is a part of the healing and recovery process.

For more information, please visit links below:
  • American Heart Association
  • The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
  • Montefiore Medical Center