Israeli scientists have learned to treat cancer and the consequences of a heart attack with the help of pleasure
“Your brain can control how you get sick and how you recover”: an article with this title was published in the prestigious international scientific journal Nature. The described results of the experiments are amazing. Let’s clarify right away: up to now these data have been obtained in experiments with mice. However, both in the medical literature and in the practice of doctors there are examples that suggest that something similar could probably happen to a person.
HOW TO MEND A BROKEN HEART
Hedva Haikin, a researcher at the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, examined heart tissue after a heart attack in two groups of mice. A part of the rodents underwent stimulation of the brain areas responsible for positive emotions and motivation. This site is also known as the rewards center or the pleasure center. The second control group of mice was left without intervention.
“When we saw the results, our first thought was: this is too good to be true,” admits Khaykin. It turned out that the “stimulated” mice in the heart tissue had a much smaller area of scarring. In other words, the damage from a heart attack is much less and the recovery is much better!
But is it a coincidence? In science, it is customary to double check everything to confirm the reproducibility of the results. The researcher with his colleagues, neuroimmunologist Asia Rolls and cardiologist Lior Gepshtein, made sure: this is repeated from time to time. But why this happens remains a mystery, scientists shrug. As one option, they put forward a hypothesis: perhaps stimulating the reward center in the brain somehow causes changes in certain parts of the immune system. And these reactions, in turn, contribute to the reduction of scar tissue.
CAN NERVE CELLS AFFECT CANCER?
In another experiment, the scientists decided to test how stimulation affects mice with lung and skin tumors. Activation of pleasure center neurons markedly reduced the area of spread of cancer cells. It sounds like fantasy. However, this effect has been proven and documented in the scientific article “Modulation of antitumor immunity by the brain reward system”.
And again: there are no explanations of the mechanism to date. The scientists’ hypothesis in this case is as follows: it appears that stimulating parts of the brain in mice had an effect on bone marrow cells. Namely: there was a weakening of the link, which usually suppresses immune activity (the body needs this, for example, so that there are no excessive reactions to safe substances). As a result, the immune system was activated to fight the cancer.
Does something similar happen in humans? An example is a study from the Stanford University School of Medicine (California). The scientists analyzed the impact of supportive psychotherapy in patients with breast cancer. It has long been noticed that positive emotions and a positive attitude of the patient can have a beneficial effect on the process of treatment of many diseases, the authors of the scientific paper write. At 20 months from the start of follow-up, women who received help from an oncopsychologist had almost twice as many survivors as women who received standard cancer treatment.
MORE POSITIVE – LESS PAIN?
What horizons do the inspiring results of the experiments with mice open up for medicine? What can be done today and what examples are there in everyday medical practice? We asked an experienced psychiatrist who worked, among other things, with cancer patients about this.
“First of all, it is important to understand that the results of animal studies cannot be directly transferred to humans,” warns the conductor of Psychiatry. Dr. Gilev’s channel on psychiatry”, practicing psychiatrist Artem Gilev. – However, by conducting experiments on mice, we can understand the general patterns. And the ground for further research, first in larger animals, then in humans.
In general, it is known that the conviction of people in the healing power of even medically useless drugs (for example, placebo) can lead to the cure of some diseases, says the doctor. It is assumed that positive emotions (hope for salvation) and motivation (get well) may be involved in this. That is, the same sensations in the formation of which the reward center of the brain participates.
– Foreign researchers proposed hypotheses that nerve cells in the “pleasure center” can affect the immune system. What is known about this?
– In fact, our brain and our immune system are the two most mysterious universes in the body. Both are extremely complex. For scientists and doctors, there are more secrets in the work of the brain and immunity than understandable mechanisms. If we talk about what we see in practice, then, for example, with negative emotions, an anxiety disorder, the brain can begin to imitate various diseases. In a person, in the absence of a real disease, physical damage to certain organs, symptoms of cardiovascular diseases, gastrointestinal diseases, etc. appear. Based on this, we can assume the opposite: receiving positive emotions, pleasure, the brain can at least relieve painful symptoms. Or even cure some disease. I emphasize: this is also a hypothesis.
TO THE POINT
How emotions can affect the patient’s condition
– When a person has a positive attitude, he feels good, then first of all it is easier to contact a doctor. These people are more adherent to treatment, which increases its effectiveness, says Dr. Gilev. – With an anxiety disorder, strong feelings, blood pressure, blood glucose levels increase. The risk of heart attack and stroke increases. And with a calm and positive mood, many indicators become more favorable: pressure, glucose decrease, and other parameters normalize.
As for cancer patients, they often develop depression. In my practice, I have seen that in the treatment of depressive disorders, these patients are more successful in fighting cancer.
How can you influence the reward center in the brain?
– Transcranial magnetic stimulation of certain areas of the brain. Today, this method is officially used in the treatment of depressive disorders in people in some medical institutions, Artem Gilev said. A coil is brought to the surface of the patient’s head, with the help of which a magnetic field is applied (the device is positioned so that the signal reaches the necessary parts of the brain; the position of the coil is determined on the basis of the MRI of the patient’s brain).
– Antidepressants. The mechanism of its action is not fully known to science, the doctor notes. But the fact that these drugs, prescribed for medical reasons, help reduce anxiety and positive emotions is a fact.
– Physical exercises that a person performs with pleasure. For example, running, swimming, cycling.
– Special computer programs for anxiety reduction and relaxation. These are experimental developments, somewhat similar to the game. Sensors are placed on the patient’s head that read the electrical activity of the brain. The information appears on the computer screen in the form of certain images. If a person relaxes, calms down, the images change. You should try to achieve the “correct” images.