Bad News for the Atheists, Religion is Good For Your Health

Preparing for a presentation for a church group on Saturday, I thought I’d slip in some material on the relationship between involvement with a religious body and health.

I felt this article from the Medical Journal of Australia would give some insights:

“More frequent religous attendance was found by several of the studies reviewed by McCollough to be associated with less depression, lower blood pressure, lower rates of cancer and better mortality.” – from Staying Sane by Dr. Raj Persaud, Consultant psychiatrist.

Researchers speculate and theorize about the reasons for this link.

There may be many factors involved. Research shows that the “religious” tend to take better care of their health. Friendship building, social support and a belief system that encourages resilience and hope, makes illness, death and dying easier to bear.

Our mental and social health are unarguably linked to our physical health. At the simplest level we can explain this by the fact that with better mental health and the social support that often goes along with it, our cortisol levels are lower and thus our immune system is stronger and our overall levels of chronic inflammation, reduced.

In any event, Dr. Raj Persaud devotes several “easy-to-read-written-for-the-layman” pages of Staying Sane to the relationship between religion and mental and physical health and manages to insert his humour very subtlely into the subject so I’m hoping to photocopy a few of those pages to add to my handout on Saturday.


How Your Attitude Influences Your Natural Killer Cells

You might have heard that Emotional Intelligence needs to be taught in schools, since it impacts your success more than your IQ.

You might listen to news, local, regional and international and be in utter despair that either your EQ or your IQ can save even your little portion of the world!

You might be sick of hearing that tired cliché from the Think Positive Gurus, “Your attitude determines your altitude.”

Yet your very feelings of helplessness and hopelessness are like the last nails on a coffin.

After all, what we have most control over is what we think, say and do. Ironically our thoughts and attitudes impact not only the entire course of our lives but heavily influence our health.

Now if you usually fill your mind with frustrated, dejected and despairing thoughts then I guess that last statement was just depressing wasn’t it?

Obviously, both our lives and our health are subject also to external forces but since we know we can’t control the external forces, why do we pay so little attention to the one locus we can control?

A long term prospective study of healthy subjects in Finland yielded data highlighting the relationship between helplessness and health.

In this study, these simple questions were used as a measure of the sense of helplessness:

1. ‘I feel that it is impossible to reach the goals I would like to strive for.’

2. ‘The future seems to me to be hopeless, and I can’t believe that things are going to change for the better.’

Six years later and all other factors being equal, the persons who had rated both statements as “true” had a mortality rate (from all causes combined) that was three times higher than that of persons characterized by the lowest level of helplessness (who didn’t think either statement applied to them). They also developed 160% more fatal cancers.”

How could this be so?

Well if you are suspecting cortisol to be the culprit you are on the pulse!

“ When people have the feeling that their life is no longer manageable, or that it leads to more suffering than joy….the neurological response to this stress is the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol….White blood cells have receptors on their surface that detect the presence of stress hormones and react accordingly….some respond by releasing inflammatory cytokines and chemokines. Natural killer cells are blocked by noradrenaline and cortisol, remaining passively glued to the walls of blood vessels rather than attacking viruses or abnormal precursor cancer cells.” *

Remember we learned about Natural Killer Cells (NKCs) in a previous article where we saw their critical role in fighting cancer.

But making all this relevant, could you be paralyzing your NKCs with your thoughts?

Do you have patterns of thinking that leave you believing that your hands are tied and you are living a life controlled by relatives, co-workers or selfish, greedy, unjust social norms?

If so, could therapy help you? Do you need professional help?

And do you want help or would you prefer to continue to live under the burden of quiet but common despair?

Nutrition, exercise, supplements, rest and relaxation are light and easy subjects compared to the workings of the inner self where hope, fear, pain, abandonment, love, yearning and dreams all reside.

Negative patterns of thinking when heavily ingrained are not often reversed by a moment of enlightenment. To change a pattern of thinking requires undaunted,  conscious effort, immune to your inevitable faltering on the way to change.

Some of us need the professional support of psychologists and psychiatrists. Some of us can get our heads above ground by other means.

Staying Sane by Dr. Raj Persaud is the best book on understanding and maintaining mental health that I could recommend.

After reading this book though, you will be convinced that changing your thinking patterns is possible! The conviction that it is not is a very real barrier to change.

Regular therapy is expensive, but meaningful community work with positive people in an NGO of your choice, or volunteer work with a local school or religious/social organization are both free and priceless as such activity helps to add meaning to life.

Every journey begins with a single step.

*Excerpts taken from Anti-Cancer, A New Way of Life by Dr. David Servan-Schreiber.