Enough studies have been published to establish, beyond any doubt, the connection between the mind and the body. Our thoughts, moods and attitude have such an influence over our bodily health that it seems extraordinary that doctors persist with an exclusive, and aggressive, drug therapy. It also throws into question the whole paradigm on which conventional medicine is based, but that's another story.
Two new studies confirm the mind/body link, and in ways that are more subtle than even many of us supposed. The first, undertaken by Duke University Medical Center, has found that even mild depression can quicken the deaths of patients with heart problems.
Researchers tracked 1,005 patients with heart failure, and found that those with mild depression were 44 per cent more likely to die than those whose mental state was recorded as 'normal'. But the amazing discovery was found among the patients whose depression was even milder, and may not have been recognized by doctors. Those patients with the mildest form of depression were 51 per cent more likely to die.
According to Beck's Depression Inventory (BDI), the standard measure for depression, rates mild depression as a 10, and this was recorded among those whose mortality risk rose by 44 per cent as a result. But the other group, with even milder depression, was recording scores as low as 7, which had not been considered as a level causing concern. To give an idea of the BDI rating system, a comment such as 'I am disappointed with myself' would register 3 points.
Researchers are unable to explain the phenomenon, but believe that there may be a pragmatic explanation. Depressed people may be more likely to miss doctors' appointments, forget to take prescribed drugs or forego exercise and make other poor lifestyle choices on smoking and diet, but other studies have suggested that depression also has a physical impact on the heart, irrespective of these other factors.
And their study suggests that it affects people who previously would not have been thought of as depressed, so suggesting their pragmatic approach doesn't provide the complete answer.
Their conclusion is also not supported by another study from the same university. A separate study has found another link between depression and heart problems. Another Duke team tested 72 patients who had been admitted to a hospital with heart attacks, and discovered that 13 of them were clinically depressed. The incidence of abnormal heartbeat - ventricular tachycardia - was three times higher in depressed patients.
(Sources: Papers presented to the American College of Cardiology scientific sessions, March 5, 2005; and American Psychosomatic Society annual meeting, Vancouver, March 5, 2005).