Friday, March 4, 2011

Ruled by the Body: How Physical Illness Affects the Brain

'Many common ailments and physical conditions can influence the brain, leaving you depressed, anxious or slow-witted.' says Erich Kasten,professor of medical psychology at the University of Lbeck in Germany in an article that appeared in Scientific American on March 3, 2011.

According to Kasten, doctors often forget to ask patients about psychological symptoms. Conversely, psychologists and psychiatrists may treat mental troubles in isolation without looking for a physical cause. But now some doctors and psychologists are reviving the decades-old discipline of somatopsychology, which centers on the effects of physical illness on the brain.

'In Western culture people have long treated body and mind as separate. This dichotomy, popularized by French philosopher René Descartes in the 17th century, is still reflected in medical practice, as the specialists who look after our bodies remain different from those who attend to our psyches. Of course, the division has blurred in recent decades. We now know, after all, that the mind is housed in a physical entity, the brain, which is part of the body. And most people are also aware that psychological problems can produce physical symptoms in the form of psychosomatics; for instance, mental stress can spawn headaches, an upset stomach or even heart problems.

'But fewer people appreciate that the influence also runs in the other direction—that changes in your body can profoundly perturb your mental state,' he says.

Full article available at Scientific American website

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