A recent study from researchers at the UCLA Cousin’s Center for Psychoneuroimmunology revealed a connection between brain activity in the regions that respond to stress and anxiety in social situations and inflammatory immune responses. This lends support to the mind-body (psychology-physiology) connection in the exacerbation of diseases like asthma, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and depression. I was excited to blog about these findings because they are relevant to my ongoing research “Life Stress, Social Problem Solving and Asthma”.
Essentially, I am hypothesizing that asthma patients who can more effectively cope with and adapt to stressful life situations will have better control over their asthma and have a better quality of life. The pathways that I suggest in my model are behavioral (i.e. medication adherence, seeking follow-up care, environmental asthma management strategies, etc), psychological (i.e. more effective coping and problem solving results in less anxiety and stress) and biological (i.e. anxiety and stress are associated with changes in immunology/inflammation and airway physiology).
The findings of the UCLA researchers are looking at the biological pathways from a very direct angle; measuring brain activity and inflammation in concert. While these findings are interesting and support the mind-body connection on a new level, there is still something lacking in terms of payback. That is to say, even if we can understand the tendencies and mechanics of the mind-body connection what good will come of it?
Perhaps my training has skewed my perspective but I suggest that the good will come from psychology and the science of health behavior. We can teach people coping skills and encourage them to engage in more adaptive life strategies. This can change their perception of their abilities to cope, changing their experience of stress, improving their disease self-management and, as this study suggests, support balance in the immune system.
Gary Polakovic, a former environmental writer for the Los Angeles Times, recently published a very worthy commentary comparing the Gulf oil disaster to air pollution. You can read it here. Basically, he is making the point that people are (rightly) upset about the gulf disaster, but are not as concerned as they should be about air pollution; a more widespread and long-term problem. Air pollution is an environmental disaster far worse than the Gulf oil disaster. Even when BP has stopped the oil from leaking, we are still polluting the air.
Here are just a few statistics that Gary uses to illustrate his point:
“It takes the Los Angeles region less than two days to match the pollution the Deepwater Horizon blowout produces in one.”
“Worst-case estimates place the total oil spilled in the gulf at about 126 million gallons over two months. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the country disgorges that much hydrocarbon pollution to the air in 10 days.”
I wanted to echo Gary’s sentiment because this issue is at the core of my work everyday at the Clean Air Council. The U.S. and the world need to recognize just how much damage we are doing to our own health (increasing rates of pollution related diseases: asthma, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, etc), the health of our children and grandchildren, and the extent to which we are jeopardizing the future of the human race.
*The World Health Organization estimates that 20 million people die prematurely due to air pollution. – Article on air pollution increasing in developing countries.
Community health centers are one of the many new frontiers of public health and health care. “With continued growth at fifteen percent annually, Health Centers will serve 44 million patients by 2020, and all medically disenfranchised patients by 2026.”* That’s why it’s great to see that there is a whole week dedicated to these health care outlets.
This week is National Health Center Week (August 8th-14th, 2010). It is dedicated to recognizing community health centers and their mission to provide high quality health care to those most in need. The non-profit I work for, Clean Air Council, is proud to partner with Greater Philadelphia Health Action (GPHA) to provide free information on environmental asthma management, indoor and outdoor air pollution, tobacco cessation, waste and recycling programs, public transportation programs, etc.
* Shin P, Markus A, and Rosenbaum S. Measuring Health Centers against Standard Indicators of High Quality Performance: Early Results from a Multi-Site Demonstration Project. Interim Report. Prepared for the United Health Foundation, August 2006.
Big news! I have been accepted to Temple University’s Public Health doctoral program, concentrating on Behavioral and Health Sciences. I am very excited to be working the other students and faculty at Temple. They have a great reputation for research in the public health, health psychology, and environmental health fields.
Starting the end of this month I will be TAing, taking advanced courses in statistics, research methods, public health theories and program evaluation. Hopefully, I will still have time for my work at the Clean Air Council, independent research, this blog and my music!