Can Your Emotions Affect Your Immune System? The Thyroid Puzzle!
The Thyroid Puzzle. It’s amazing how much control the thyroid has over our bodies. The butterfly-shaped gland in the neck controls so much of how we feel physically, emotionally, socially, and mentally. For many patients with thyroid conditions, often the first clue something is amiss is because of a feeling of depression. It is a psychological symptom of a physical problem.
Emotional and Physical Connection
Just for a second, let’s look into depression a little bit. Many medical professionals do not look past the physical aspects of our bodies to assess the bigger picture. Yet we know for a fact that the mind is a powerful contributor to our physical well-being. Depression manifests itself in patients in a lot of ways and goes so far beyond just an overall sense of sadness or the blues. There are physical implications of depression. Muscle aches. Fatigue. Joint pain. Many patients experience immune suppression, so they become ill more easily. They may contract the flu or colds more frequently.
A 2008 study shows that people who are under a significant amount of stress are more likely to suffer from immune suppression, which then leads to greater instances of illness. For those who suffer mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression, or anxiety, the occurrences of illness is even greater than those who suffer from prolonged stress. This groundbreaking research shows an increase in the amount of histamines the body produces when exposed to prolonged levels of stress. For asthmatics and those who suffer from allergies, stress is a definite trigger to attacks. The study takes things a step further, too. This same study shows a link between stress and cancer. In rats, it revealed a link between stress and the progression of cancerous tumors. Chronic and acute stress, including surgery and social disruptions, appear to promote tumor growth.
Additionally, another 2008 study shows us social and emotional support from others can be protective for our health. Social integration plays a role in mortality. In the study, older men who lived alone with no (or little) social and emotional support in place had a shorter lifespan. All of these trends tend to point to the fact that our emotions play a major role in our overall health.
So, let’s get back to the emotional puzzle that lies within the thyroid gland. We know for a fact that a thyroid that is behaving poorly can cause physical and emotional symptoms. The levels of TSH and thyroid hormones in our bodies effects everything from our metabolism to our mental state. What if the reverse were also to hold true? What if our emotional state and mental state played a role on our thyroid?
Putting the Pieces Into Place
My own journey has been wrought with a lot of emotional and psychological discovery. When I first went to the Mexican clinic, there was a lot of emotional and mental healing that was addressed as part of the physical illness. When I first looked at the questionnaire, it took a huge emotional toll on me, and I put it on the nightstand and tried ignoring it for several days. The first part of my healing journey was focused on the physical aspects of my body—what I ate, how I ate, the way my environment impacted my physical being. The emotional aspect of this questionnaire led to an epiphany and started connecting the dots for me as to the potential cause of my diagnosis. Does the mind and spirit play a role in thyroid conditions?
I am not a medical doctor and I haven’t conducted any scientific studies. However, in my case, I can say unequivocally that yes. The emotional and spiritual aspects of my past impacted my health. I believe in the emotional connection to the thyroid. We know the thyroid can cause emotional issues and lead to depression. We know there is a connection. Yet very few have considered that maybe the reverse can also hold true. That the connection flows both ways and is not a one-way street.
A Revelation in Science
Interestingly enough, there have been enough connections in the past between cancer diagnosis and prognosis when a patient has emotional and social support. Patients with a good support system in place generally have better outcomes than those who don’t. This isn’t news. Yet the exact reasons haven’t been studied very much. However, a study just released a few days ago show an emerging area of study in Psycho-Oncology. Psychological and social factors in relation to cancer were not studied at all until the past two decades. This emerging sub-specialty is showing an impressive amount of promise in just how interconnected the mind, body, and spirit is when it comes to all illness—including cancer.
Further evidence regarding cancer and an emotional connection can be seen in the 2012 study among end-of-life cancer patients. The eye-opening results show that mind matters in cancer survival. Patients who received palliative care instead of traditional therapies showed that living better meant living longer. The study showed that in cases where patients received less aggressive end-of-life care survived longer AND suffered from less depression.
The thyroid is a small but mighty powerhouse in our bodies with connections in places we may not have even considered. With so many functions and impacts it can have on our overall well-being, it only stands to reason the thyroid and our emotions are closely intertwined. By exploring our emotional well-being and our spiritual well-being, we might be able to help identify and prevent thyroid disease in the future. In my own journey, discovering that emotional connection was both cathartic and overwhelming. It meant there was a lot of work yet to be done, and my path was still emerging. I haven’t completed my journey to enlightenment by any stretch of the imagination. I am still a work in progress. But I am convinced those emotional barriers have played a major role in my own health and perhaps even led to my cancer. Perhaps in a few more years, it will be a more recognized strategy to preventing and treating thyroid conditions and cancers. Perhaps the cure for many cancers lies within our own bodies.
I have found my cancer journey to be a positive and profound transformational experience. I’m inspired to share my healing journey here, and trust you’ll find hope, encouragement and purpose as you discover the healing power that lies within you.