Professional Business WomanThere was an interesting article in the NZ Herald this week which a few patients have mentioned so I thought it was worth putting down my thoughts on it.

This article was referring to a recent study linking higher levels of work place stress to higher rates of breast cancer in women. Here are the key findings:

“Successful women may be more likely to develop breast cancer – and stress at work, including prejudice, discrimination, and resistance, could be to blame.

Women in professional jobs had a near 70 per cent higher risk of breast cancer than other women, according to new research.

The research, based on a 55-year study of women who were in their thirties in the 1970′s, links job stress and cancer, and shows that the longer a woman held the job, the greater the risk.”

It’s been interesting talking to people about this article over the last few days, and it’s led to some thought provoking conversations. Here are some of my thoughts about it, in no particular order. Read More

Keep Left road sign

Keep left- Stay happy

One of the really exciting things that is happening these days in brain research is that now scientists can scan people’s brains to analyse exactly what’s going on in there when they are doing/thinking/feeling different things. This is opening up huge insights into how the brain works and giving new possibilities for effective treatments. One of the more interesting findings that has come out of these modern brain imaging studies is that there are imbalances between hemispheres of the brain in people who are suffering from depression.

Specifically what these studies have shown is the importance of the balance between activity in the areas of the right prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is an area that’s active when we feel distressed or unhappy, and the left prefrontal cortex, which is more active when we feel energized and enthusiastic. Each of us has a default ratio of left-to-right activation which predicts pretty accurately our day-to-day mood range. Most of us are pretty much even. We have good days and we have bad days.

Some people’s ratios are skewed a bit to the right (i.e. their right PFC is a lot more active than their left PFC). These people tend to be clinically depressed and/or anxious. Others have a balance point that is further to the left (i.e. their left PFC is more active than their right) and these people are far more likely to be more cheerful and to recover more quickly from stress.

The good news is that we all have the ability to change this right/left activity ratio in a more positive direction and there has been quite a bit of research looking into this. Here are three self-help techniques that have been shown to help boost your mood. Read More

happinessI’m becoming increasingly fascinated by the links between our emotional health and our physical health. I’m sure everyone knows these days that the mind affects the body (and vice versa of course) but it’s still amazing how powerful these effects can be.

I thought I’d review a couple of great studies that have scientifically measured the relationship between emotional health and physical health:

1. The first study which is very topical for the start of ‘flu season’ took 334 healthy volunteers and ran them through a battery of tests to assess their tendencies to experience positive emotions or negative emotions. They were then given nasal drops which contained a couple of strains of Rhinovirus (i.e. the common cold virus) and then placed in quarantine and monitored to see if they developed symptoms.  The results showed very clearly that people who reported experiencing more positive emotion were far more likely to be able to resist the infection. In fact, those who ranked in the top third for positive emotions were almost 3 times less likely to get the cold than those in the lowest third. Read More

MRI showing a prolapsed disc

MRI showing a prolapsed disc

In between each of the vertebrae of your spine lies a very strong but flexible structure called the disc. These discs have a strong outer rim of fibrocartilage and a soft gel like centre- they are designed to give your spine flexibility and strength and help act as shock absorbers. Discs are frequently implicated as the cause of back and neck pain- I’m sure you or someone you know has suffered from a ‘slipped disc’ and will agree it’s not pretty.

Firstly let me say- discs don’t actually slip! I don’t know who coined the phrase but it’s misleading- the discs are incredibly strong structures which are anchored in place by thick fibrous ligaments and they aren’t ‘slipping’ anywhere. So saying, discs are perfectly capable of getting torn, inflamed, herniated, squashed or developing protrusions, bulges and extrusions. For a number of years the medical consensus on spinal pain was that the disc was public enemy number one. Patients with back pain were sent off for x-rays and MRI’s to identify which disc was the problem and then the offending disc was dealt with, often with surgery. It was all nice and neat and tidy except for the inconvenient fact that at the end of this long, expensive, and painful process quite a few of the patients still had their back pain. Read More