It was not until the middle of the 20th century that the World Health Organization (WHO) came to define health not only as the absence of disease but as the physical, mental and social well-being of a person. In this way, it recognized and implied that medical treatments should focus on the whole person and not only on the physical aspects of the disease.
However, a few years ago, patients’ health was directed specifically at treating physical illnesses. Today, thanks to innovation and recent research, we know that a patient’s mental health greatly influences his or her physical well-being.
What is the impact of mental health on physical health? Let’s look at a few examples:
Stress and the immune system.
Studies in recent years in the field of psychoneuroimmunology have succeeded in demonstrating and determining some of the mechanisms by which the neurological system and the immune system are related.
While having some stress can be positive in specific cases, as a biological response to external threats, suffering chronic stress weakens our immune system. Chronically stressed people show a constantly elevated cortisol level that acts on their immune system, reducing their ability to respond.
Anxiety and coronary heart disease
It is known that psychological factors such as stress and depression play an important role in both the onset and progression of coronary heart disease. Today we understand that anxiety is a determining factor in our cardiovascular health, at the same level as such an important factor as arterial hypertension. A meta-analysis carried out in 2010 indicates that patients with anxiety are 26% more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease and 48% more likely to die from it.
According to this same study, the levels of anxiety that a person suffers from can serve as a marker to prevent the possible appearance of coronary heart disease in the future.
Brain and digestive system
The brain and the digestive system are intimately connected, both in one sense and in the other: on the one hand, digestion influences moods and emotions; on the other, stress and anxiety aggravate inflammatory diseases such as gastritis or colitis.
Thus, controlling our diet can improve our emotional well-being, just as taking care of our mental health will have a positive effect on our digestive processes.
Mental health and cancer
Although much progress has been made in recent years in the treatment of oncological diseases, cancer remains one of the most feared diseases, due to both the nature of the disease and the still very high mortality rates.
It is not surprising, then, that cancer has a close relationship with the mental health of patients.
On the one hand, people diagnosed with cancer may suffer from stress, depression or anger. On the other hand, psychological aspects influence the patient’s well-being during treatment and the evolution of the disease. In fact, it is not uncommon for patients to suffer side effects of chemotherapy (nausea and vomiting) even before they have received it.
Mental and physical health are closely related. This interrelationship has become particularly relevant during the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and especially during periods of confinement. During these years, many people have experienced increased levels of anxiety and stress, which has also had a negative effect on their physical well-being.
Taking care of our mental health is critical to maintaining our overall well-being. Although it may often seem difficult, we should try to control our stress levels and avoid situations that may cause anxiety. If you found this article interesting about mental health, it is very likely you will enjoy further reading at Health wellbeing.