For quite long, I have been sharing with you research papers and articles that deal with the effects of gluten on our overall health. While perusing these research papers (which number in the hundreds), I came across a few very interesting studies, that perhaps would be of interest to many of us, but since they do not concern gluten, I did not follow up with them. However, since all of us intend to live a healthy life - I felt it would be appropriate to share a couple of them with you now and in my future posts. So here is one of them -
How our mind controls Rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
RA is an autoimmune (caused by our own immune system) disease which involves painful joints among other issues. The immune system of people suffering from RA makes antibodies* not only against microbes or specific organs but against other antibodies that are present in one’s own body! These “aggressor” antibodies, i.e. the Rheumatoid Factor, bind to the innocent bystander antibodies in the blood and form large antibody complexes. Normally, such complexes are cleared by the scavengers of our immune system - the macrophages. However, when the number of such complexes becomes humungous enough, so as to dwarf the ability of the macrophages to clear them; these complexes, then deposit on the insides of our blood vessels and joints. An inflammatory reaction follows - the T-Cells and B-Cells (other components of our bodies defence) enters the joints attempting to clear these antibody complexes. It is during this process, that the tissues which provide lubrication to the joints are gradually destroyed. This condition is not only painful but also physically damaging as it gradually leads to deformity of the joints – This is what we know as Arthritis.
For a long time, there have been reports in the RA literature stating that patients with RA were “tense”, “moody” and “high-strung”; showed tendencies of setting high standards for themselves and others, and reacted negatively when faced with falling standards. However, there was no study conducted until 1964.
Dr’s. George Solomon and Rudolph Moos of Stanford were intrigued by a case of two genetically identical female twins, only one of whom was diagnosed with RA. They carried out an extensive study on women affected by RA (1). What they discovered was that the sister with RA showed tendencies of being more nervous, more depressed and quicker to anger to both, real and imagined situations as compared to their symptom-free sibling. Close questioning of the patients and their family members, showed, that these traits were not brought on by the disease itself but were personality characteristics of these patients even before the disease set in.
In almost every case, an emotional conflict started or worsened the disease. In a follow-up study (2), the researchers were surprised to find that the generally happy twin, who avoided stressful situations (and had personality traits opposite to that of the suffering twin) who although had a genetic disposition to acquire RA, did not suffer from it. In some cases, the RA levels of such patients were in the range of the suffering patients but they never developed the disease.
Today, it is generally accepted that autoimmune diseases such as RA, lupus and multiple sclerosis may not always represent the failure of the immune system but rather could be the result of a combination of many factors, exacerbated by emotional stress.
In another study (3), which shows how the mind controls the immune system, 394 healthy volunteers were exposed to a series of cold viruses. Prior to their exposure, a series of tests were conducted to determine their stress levels. This study showed that only 27% of the volunteers who were stress-free developed cold as compared to more than 50% of those under stress - there was no other co-relation other than stress. Studies like these, have resulted in a creation of a new branch in immunology called – psychoneuroimmunology.
So, to sum it up - a quote from Charles Raison from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University “People who have rich social lives and, warm, open relationships don’t get sick and live longer”.
(* Antibody is a protein found in blood, produced in response to an invasion of the body by a microbe or other foreign entity, capable of recognising that entity and promoting its elimination.)