Psychosomatic disorders not ‘all in the mind’: Brain-body connection bolstered by new research

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Placebo effects, exercise highs, getting sick when you’re stressed out—the popular press and the scientific literature alike are replete with examples of how the mind or mental processes influence our health and well-being. This “mind-body connection” is essential for normal organ function and also is viewed as the basis for psychosomatic disorders. Yet the concept that our thoughts can influence the function of a variety of organ systems is often viewed with some skepticism, in part because it has lacked a firm biological basis.

That’s changing. We are now starting to provide the scientific evidence to reveal the important dynamic between our brains and our bodies.

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In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences we recently described using a rabies virus tracer to reveal the areas of the cerebral cortex that influence the adrenal medulla of the monkey and rat, as well as rabies transport from the kidney in the rat.

[S]ome definitions of psychosomatic disorders include dismissive descriptions such as, “all in the mind,” “irrational” or “subconscious.” Our findings should correct this perspective because they provide a concrete neural substrate for cortical areas involved in movement, cognition and affect to influence a major sympathetic effector, the adrenal medulla.

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