Tech UPTechnologyHow the mind and body work side by side

How the mind and body work side by side

“Right now it is very hot here in Lanzarote, I am parked inside the car, under the sun and I am sweating like a condemned man. Even so, I can thermoregulate while talking to you and I am able to give you coherent answers. That happens because I am healthy. My body is flexible, which allows me to manage the two demands that I have: to cope with the heat and to respond to this interview ”, the Dutch biochemist Leo Pruimboom tells VERY when I ask him what health is. He is the founder of clinical psychoneuroimulogy – that is, “that applied to the human being in everyday life” – which he introduced to Europe in the 1990s, when he founded the European Academy of PNI. Today he leads the PNI Europe institute, based in the Netherlands, he is scientific director of the Clinical PNI Master’s degree at the Pontifical University of Salamanca, in Spain, and is dedicated to disseminating the importance of this approach in all areas of medical care .

The key to everything is energy . “We are not talking about esoteric energy, or spiritual energy, or anything like that, this is science. We focus on how it is distributed among the different organs and tissues of the body through the blood, the mitochondria, the ATP –the adenosine triphosphate or energy exchange currency of our body–… ”, he points out. “A person is healthy when, in the context in which he is, he is able to redistribute the energy he needs to adapt. For example, in a match, a footballer must distribute his energy between the brain, heart, lungs and muscles. During that time, the skin, intestines, kidney are excluded. But, after the game, you have to get these organs to get the energy they need again ”. This is what PNI calls metabolic flexibility and considers the key to health. It is about maintaining a dynamic balance on five fronts simultaneously: the psychological, the neurological, the immune, the endocrine and the metabolic.

To get an idea, according to Pruimboom, “ if a person is psychologically flexible, he is also metabolically flexible . I have a patient who is a disaster on a psychological level: he is aggressive, he does not know how to be…. I research it and find that it is insulin resistant, it does not know how to burn fat. If I treat their metabolism, their behavior improves ”, he assures. But it also happens the other way around. “You can treat toxic emotions to fix metabolism .” That is why PNI requires a multidisciplinary approach. In his opinion, “the psychologist, psychiatrist, gynecologist, cardiologist or physiotherapist are necessary for acute illnesses, but specialists do not cure chronic problems. To unify those islands where medical specialties separate the human body, anyone who works in the world of health should be a psychoneuroimmunologist ”. Perhaps that is why the researchers who contribute their studies to this field come from all medical disciplines: endocrinologists, neurologists, psychiatrists, immunologists, psychologists, biochemists, internists, microbiologists …

But what is PNI ? “We refer to a scientific metadiscipline that focuses on the study of the interactions between the systems that regulate health in the human body “, explains the physiotherapist Daniel de la Serna, founder and director of the Spanish Institute of Psychoneuroimmunology. He was born in the United States in 1975, by the hand of the psychologist Robert Ader, a researcher at the Rochester Medical Center, and Hans Selye, a pioneer in studying the physiological response to stress. “For fifty years, the body of knowledge has been built and, for twenty years, it began to be put into practice with patients, thanks to the contributions of Leo Pruimboom,” says De la Serna.

In consultation, this translates into trying to understand well the patient’s symptoms and their interrelated mechanisms of action. Thus, “when facing a source of stress, the body organizes a global response that touches all the psychoneuroimmune systems, it does not do so in isolation” , emphasizes De la Serna. And he adds: “For example, we can see to what extent the inflammatory process is caused by the metabolism of hormones.” From there, the problem can be treated by modifying the lifestyle, or with medication, or with supplements, or with nutrition, or with psychotherapy … “The classic approach to inflammation is with anti-inflammatories, it is not taken into account Note that, for example, it may have to do with eating habits, ”says De la Serna.

This understanding of the body as a whole is one of the great innovations that PNI has brought to immunology. As Pruimboom emphasizes, “Before, the immune system was believed to be autonomous, but it is not. There are immune cells in the brain that communicate at all levels with neurons, hormones, the microbiome… ”. Even emotions have a lot to say when it comes to understanding how our defenses work . In this regard, the work of the immunologist Jonathan Kipnis, director of the Center for Brain and Glia Immunology at the University of Virginia and professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine, stands out, stating that “the immune system is the sixth sense of brain”. In 2015, the journal Science named Discovery of the Year for its discovery of lymphatic vessels in the meninges – before that, it was believed that the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system, was not connected to the brain -, which led to to formulate his theory of the lymphatic system of the brain .

It is what this researcher calls the behavioral immune system . As De la Serna explains, the immune system has evolved so much that to avoid risky situations it produces certain emotions that provoke avoidance behaviors. “Thus, if you have weak defenses and less ability to combat pathogens, perhaps you have an easier time feeling disgust –which protects you from trying certain foods– or fear –which prevents your body from being exposed to certain situations–”, De la Serna comments.

With everything and with that, in the modern world we only carry it regularly. As Pruimboom points out, “95% of the sick population suffers from low-grade inflammation that causes the immune system to be active all the time, recruiting energy. Heart, brain, muscles, digestive system cannot function well, because there is an energy conflict ”. It is an invisible pathology, which is associated with chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and fibromyalgia. All of them have an inflammatory substrate behind them ”, adds De la Serna. The culprits are environmental toxins and lifestyle. It is an evil of our era, De la Serna tells us. “If you eat too much sugar and suffer from high psychosocial stress, it is easy for you to develop insulin resistance. Or, if you consume junk food or food additives in excess, the intestinal mucosa is damaged, and that increases the permeability of the barriers, which again activates the immune system and inflammation ”, points out the expert. But there are many more risk factors that surround us: changed biorhythms and lack of sleep; sedentary lifestyle; mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression; atmospheric pollution; little contact with sunlight …

There are so many things at once that the immune system can’t cope. Then, it generates an on hold reaction, ‘on hold’: “There are so many open fronts in the body, so many toxins, that the solution is a low-grade inflammatory reaction, which prevents death, but you pay with a chronic pathology,” he warns Pruimboom.

Does that mean that progress makes us sick? It does not seem likely, since today we live almost twice as many years as a century ago –the average life expectancy in 1900 was 32 years and today it is 72 years–, however… “We no longer die of hunger, there is better hygiene , there are antibiotics. But we have a medicine focused on not dying, which is very different from a medicine that heals. We live longer, but we are not healthier. We spend almost half our lives sick ”, he emphasizes. And, perhaps, do not exaggerate: according to a study by the National Institute of Public Health of the Netherlands, 40% of the population of this country will live with a chronic disease in 2030 – today the figure is not trivial: 32% -. A similar report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States says that six out of ten people suffer from at least one chronic pathology, such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

In order not to add to these percentages, some factor is under our control – such as diet or exercise – but others are not, “such as global pollution, nanoparticles or politicians, who are also very toxic,” jokes Pruimboom. The solution? We can only find “the vaccine against the harm of modern life to make us do less or no harm.” In his project Intermittent life, published in 2018 in the journal Medical Hypotheses , this researcher brings together a series of interventions to detoxify and better tolerate environmental stress. One of them is the forest baths , which neutralize the effect of artificial light. “The world is too bright, artificial light slows down the production of melatonin, which is not only the sleep and growth hormone, it is also an intestinal anticancer and prevents the degeneration of the vertebral discs. In cities, most people have a tremendous delay in the rise in melatonin, until 1 or 2 in the morning, ”he observes. In an experiment conducted by Pruimboom and his colleagues, participants, all urbanites, were measured for melatonin in saliva before and after their stay in a cabin surrounded by trees and away from civilization. “In 48 hours, they recovered their normal biorhythm, something that was maintained for a month in women and three months in men,” he says.

As everything is related, our mind was not going to be less. According to PNI, toxic thoughts can also make us sick, due to biochemical reactions involved in all body systems. In Pruimboom’s opinion, these harmful mental patterns get stuck in our heads for lack of knowledge. That is what, in PNI, they call deep learning , that is, to make the patient participate in what are the mechanisms of action of their ailment and everything that is in their power to do to leave it behind. For example, “if someone believes that he will never be cured, if he is told that his pathology is chronic, he will act in accordance with that belief and, in effect, he will only prolong his illness. But, if you change that hypothesis, you open the door to a cure. When you explain to that person how their body works, just by understanding it completely changes their thinking, “says Pruimboom. Along the same lines, De la Serna adds that it is about “helping people to become aware of what is happening, so that they can take charge of their situation.”

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