Dr Mark Atkinson's Blog

13Jan 2016

The Mind's Effect on Healing

Does our mental state and mood influence our bodies ability to heal itself? That’s a question I have been exploring for many years and the answer appears to be yes - to some degree. For example, a recent study carried out by Professor Kavita Vedhara a health psychologist at the University of Nottingham found that healing rates in people diabetes-related foot ulcers are influenced by their attitude and their state of mind.

During the five-year study 93 patients (68 men and 25 women) with diabetic foot ulcers were recruited from specialist podiatry clinics across the UK. Clinical and demographic determinants of healing; psychological distress, coping style and levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) in saliva  were assessed and recorded at the start of a 24 week monitoring period.

The size of each patient’s ulcer was also measured at the start, and then at 6, 12 and 24 weeks to record the extent of healing or otherwise of the ulcer.

The results of the research showed that the likelihood of the ulcer healing over a 24 week period was predicted by how individual’s coped. Patients who showed a ‘confrontational’ way of coping (a style characterised by a desire to take control) with the ulcer and its treatment were less likely to have a healed ulcer at the end of the 24 week period. What’s more those with depression also experienced reducing healing as well. My own understanding on this is that both depression and a confrontational style (which involves fighting / resisting reality) are both associated with high stress levels. Stress-induced elevations in cortisol interfere with activities important for wound healing, including the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines (small proteins secreted by the immune system) which are essential for the early parts of the healing process.


What’s the lesson here? In my experience if the health of your body is in anyway compromised, proactively reducing and managing your stress/emotions, whilst developing a calm acceptance of the reality of your health situation (Byron Katies The Work can help with this - www.thework.com) will help support your body’s own healing processes.

Author: Mark Atkinson