Dr. Paul Nussbaum, a clinical neuropsychologist and professor of neurological surgery, believes a positive attitude is the best treatment for disease. A leader in the area of brain health lifestyle, he believes flooding our bodies with positive feelings can promote health and produce miracles of healing. The brain, he says, has the “ability to be shaped by environmental input throughout a person’s lifetime.” This means simply that positive input has a positive effect and negative input has a negative effect on the brain regardless of age.
The medicines he prescribes are love, laughter, forgiveness, compassion, and spirituality. His good news is that it is never too late to increase the plasticity of your brain. It wants to be stimulated and built to be healthy. Engaging in novel and complex activities helps to grow new brain cells at any age. They will fight off disease. He is an advocate of socialization and believes that working together people can do great things. He encourages quiet time and recommends walks on the beach or in the woods. All of these things help eliminate negative stress which destroys both our bodies and our minds.**
It is the brain that begins and maintains our body’s homeostasis (internal stability). It reacts positively to good nurturing, sending cascades of good feelings throughout the body. These good feelings over time promote the development of brain reserve, which enables the brain to delay the onset of diseases like Alzheimer’s. Brain reserve is responsible for many qualities that promote health and well-being: compassion, forgiveness, and love in addition to a general positive attitude.
It is now well-known that chronic stress has a negative impact on our lives. New research has established that parental nurturing has an enormous effect on how children relate to stress. By measuring children’s hippocampi, the area of the brain critical for new learning, researchers have found that children of nurturing, caring parents have significantly larger hippocampi than those whose parents are poor nurturers. Having a larger hippocampus from positive input can influence health later in life and can delay the onset of diseases and dementia.
It is easy to react negatively to stress, but if you want to stay well or to overcome an illness, you must resist the build-up of toxic and negative thoughts and flood your mind instead with positive thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Dr. Nussbaum believes there is no better treatment.
He emphasizes “the importance of stimulating and taking care of your brain throughout your life.” He believes that a disease like Alzheimer’s begins much earlier in life, long before symptoms begin to appear. Prevention through a lifelong pursuit of brain health would include, in addition to good parental nurturing, “ongoing mental stimulation, good nutrition, regular physical activity, socialization,” and stress control.
Dr. Harold Koenig, M. D., director of Duke University’s center for Spirituality, Theology, and Health, has written several books on the relationship between faith and healing. He believes that the power of prayer can actually heal the body. Scientific studies are accumulating that find that a strong spiritual belief system makes people healthier and happier, and helps them live longer. They recover more quickly from certain forms of cancer, coronary heart disease, and rheumatoid arthritis and they have more hope and optimism, less depression, and lower rates of suicide. Overall they experience a greater sense of well-being. This correlates with Dr. Nussbaum’s advice to flood your body with positive feelings. Having a strong faith and strong friendships and being immersed in a supportive community, enables a person to handle stress better and avoid the breakdown of the immune, endocrine, and cardiovascular systems. These are vital to maintaining health and help the body recover faster from disease and illness.
These findings agree with the thesis of Epigenetic Science: that a strong faith, an active prayer life, and a positive attitude and lifestyle leads to a happier, healthier life and can even alter the way our genes activate. Dr. Nussbaum recommends a lifelong pursuit of brain health and believes the earlier it starts, the better are our chances for preventing serious neurological disease later in life.
When asked if the mind has the power to make the body healthier, Dr. Henry Grayson, author of the book Use Your Body to Heal Your Mind, cites a case where a patient suffering with terminal lymphoma, was saved just from believing that a new drug would work, even though medically it was found to be worthless. He recommends that we reprogram our brains by clearing out all of the negative beliefs and replace them with healthier, more positive thoughts and beliefs. He likens it to plucking the weeds and planting new flowers.
As more and more doctors come to believe that it is possible to prevent disease by a positive, healthy state of mind, we should all be encouraged to make the effort to focus on positive, rather than negative things. Once you become aware of stressful, unhappy thoughts taking over your mind, you can choose not to entertain them. What an easy thing to do when you consider the likely consequences of hanging on to them!
*The ideas in this article are taken from The Mind Health Report, vol.4, Issue 6, June 2012 and vol.4. Issue 7, July 2012.
**For more information on Dr. Nussbaum’s work and the brain health lifestyle, visit his website: www.paulnussbaum.com