NEWS2U Health & Wellness
Living Healthy in an Unhealthy World

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


By Larry Dossey , M.D.

"In 1980, subjects with elevated blood cholesterol levels were taught the technique of transcendental meditation. Serial determinations of the blood cholesterol level were made. It was found that in subjects who practiced this technique the cholesterol level fell on the average of 20 percent. While this fall may seem modest, it should be noted that there are no drugs that are consistently more effective, safe, and inexpensive as this method of voluntary relaxation and mental quieting. Moreover, blood pressure, heart and respiratory rate, as well as the blood levels of insulin, hydrocortisone,adrenaline, and norepinephrine are modified to more desirable levels." - Cooper and Aygen "The effect of Meditation."

The significance of these observations is inestimable: by taking thought in ways which 'elongate' the time sense, time-sick individuals can alter many of the devastating effects of the time syndrome.


Our sense of time affects our health by influencing the development and course of specific diseases. This is nowhere more obvious than in persons who have been called Type A individuals by Friedman and Rosenman. Type A persons have "hurry sickness." Their lives are oriented around goals, deadlines, and objectives, which they seem to react to in a driven fashion. They are unable to approach a task in a healthy, balanced way, but in extreme cases seem almost consumed by a need to accomplish and achieve.

Not only do they have an inward sense of urgency, their outward behavior suggests the same quality. When sitting they may be in constant motion, not only with thoughts, but with body parts- hands, fingers, legs, feet. They are usually vocal, verbally expressing the products of a mind that cannot rest. This behavior frequently generates discomfort and tension in those around them.

It is as if Type A persons are "time sick." Type A persons are usually ambitious and frequently are highly successful, having succeeded in harnessing their high motivation and sense of purpose. Yet for all the qualities for which they are admired- their vision, energy, and dedication- they possess, as a group, a characteristic that nobody envies: they have a high mortality rate from heart disease. Type A individuals as a group, die earlier. Their behavior puts them at risk for the most frequent cause of death in our society, coronary artery disease.

The importance of the exaggerated response to time , the sense of urgency displayed by Type A individuals, is that it is translated into physiologic effects. These effects are pervasive and are seen long before heart disease supervenes. These physiological events are so characteristic of time-sick persons, they could be called the time syndrome. Among them are increased heart rate and blood pressure at rest; elevation of certain blood hormones such as adrenaline, norepinephrine, insulin, growth hormone, and hydrocortisone, all of which are ordinarily secreted in an exaggerated way during times of urgency or stress; increased gastric acid secretion; increased blood cholesterol; an increased respiratory rate; increased secretory activity of sweat glands; an increased muscle tension throughout the body. The time syndrome is a body-mind process with effects on all major systems.

As we learn to meditate, or when we become familiar with the states of consciousness through techniques employing deep relaxation, we develop a familiarity with a new sense of time. We begin to experience time in new ways. We begin to feel at home with time as it expands. Phrases such as "the ever-present now" and "the eternal moment" become full with meaning. Above all, we develop a friendliness with time.

The health-sustaining role of social support systems

We affect the health of those about us. Human events such as caring, loving, touching and confiding exert profound consequences on health.

In Alameda County, California, 4700 men and women were followed over a nine year period, and mortality rates from all causes were examined. Mortality rates in men were significantly higher among the unmarried. Those men who chose fewer social contacts with friends and relatives, and those who were not church members, demonstrated a higher death rate.

A striking result was found in an experiment at Ohio State University. A group of investigators were studying the effects of a diet high in fat and cholesterol in rabbits. At the end of a certain period the rabbits were sacrificed, and certain arteries in their bodies were examined for evidence of atherosclerosis. This process of cholesterol deposition forms obstructions and ulcerations in arteries, and in human’s results in vascular disease of various types, such as heart attacks and stroke.

The results of the study should have been rather predictable. But when a certain group of the test rabbits demonstrated atherosclerotic changes which were 60 percent less than that of the overall group, the investigators were astonished! The rabbits that were affected less severely were those who were fed and cared for by one of the investigators who, during the course of the experiment, regularly took them from their cages and petted, stroked, and talked to them.

In order to test this 'coincidence', systematic controlled studies were designed in which two groups of rabbits were again fed the same diet and were treated identically except that one group was removed from their cages several times a day for petting, and were talked to each time by the same person. The results? The petted and talked to group once again demonstrated a 60 percent lower incidence of atherosclerosis.

Not content with the possibility of two coincidences, the Ohio State investigators repeated the study. The results were the same. Touching, petting, handling, and gentle talking emerged as a crucial determinant in the disease process.

A task force in Massachusetts reported to the Secretary of H.E.W. their findings on the likelihood of survival from atherosclerotic heart disease. They found the most reliable factor in determining survival was not smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, or high blood cholesterol levels, but job satisfaction. And the second overall predictor was what the task force termed "overall happiness."

Angina pectoris is the term applied to the pain experienced by patients with atherosclerotic heart disease. Medalie and Goldbourt followed 10,000 Israeli males aged forty years and older to determine the impact of risk factors on the frequency of angina. Most of the commonly known risk factors were correlated with angina, but so too were anxiety and severe psychosocial problems. Most surprising of all was the finding that, among men with severe anxiety, those whoperceived their wives to be loving and supportive had half the rate of angina of those who felt unloved and unsupported.

Brown and his colleagues have conducted a series of studies in the United Kingdom, investigating the incidence and prevalence of psychiatric disorders. In a variety of settings (urban and rural) and among different social classes (working and middle class).

The most potent protective factor against psychiatric illness was the presence or absence of an intimate and confiding relationship with a husband or boyfriend; that is, one in which feelings could be shared, whether or not sexual intimacy occurred.

One of the most stressful events in life is the death of a husband or wife. Holmes and Rahe, in assessing the relative stress imposed by various events rated the death of a spouse as the single most stressful occurrence in life.

Krause and Lilienfeld found that age-specific mortality ratios for widowed men and women were two to fourfold higher than for those who were married.

Schleifer found that bereavement, a profoundly stressful event, produce changes in the body's immune system, compromising the defense against infection and cancer.

How do such human experiences as job satisfaction, happiness, and meditation get into the cells? There is a physiology of loving and caring, ranging from embarrassing facial blush to palpitations, sweating and stammering. Feelings of love generate physical events. It may seem a distant transition from being in love in one's teens to being a confidant or a supportive spouse later in life, but physiologic changes are involved on both ends of the spectrum. These changes are not trivial. They can make the difference between life and death.

Social support systems are important for survival

Loving, caring and confiding are crucial matters; matters of life and death.

"A solitary individual wholly independent of others is largely a fiction. In reality, most or even all living beings exist in more or less integrated communities, and the ability to maintain these associations entails some co-operations, or at least, 'proto-co- operation."- T. Dobzhansky, New York.

Our urge toward associating with those of our own kind is rooted in our earliest beginnings.

"Dependency and interdependency are the indispensable conditions of life." - A. Montague, "On Being Human."

Separated from their companions, individual amoebae begin immediately to find their way back to the group.

Wilhelm Roux shook apart the cells in a frog's eggs early in the course of its development and separated the cells at some distance in water. The cells slowly began to approach each other, eventually making contact. There are endless examples in the plant and animal world that social systems are important in the reproductive cycles and survival of living organisms.

If our health is coupled with the perpetuation of our genes, it is also tied to our association with members of our species.

As G.G. Simpson has said in 'Life of the Past': "No animal or plant lives alone or is self-sustaining. All live in communities including other members of their own species and also a number, usually a large variety, of other sorts of animals and plants. The quest to be alone is indeed a futile one, never successfully followed in the history of life."

The psychological effects of urgency - stress, anxiety, tension- do not stay in the psyche. They are translated into the body where they eventuate in physical ailments. The sense of urgency generates infirmity, disease and death.

In contrast, the psychological sense that accompanies the perception of time as static and nonflowing is one of tranquility, serenity and peace. It is the sense of oneness of unity, the feeling of calm and release. Mind and body are intrinsically united, and consciousness is the fulcrum of health.