One need not be a yogi to know that thoughts are more powerful than previously thought.
Just 20 years ago, researchers learned that the hypothalamus transforms a thought-or meme-into millions of neuropeptides that represent the emotion of a thought. For every experience of thought, the brain's "control center" releases a storm of amino acids into the bloodstream, which then insert themselves into cells within the brain-body system.
And, over time, these cells begin to crave these particular neuropeptides, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of emotion.
Now, scientists find that negative thoughts not only affect mood but other aspects of physical health, increasing levels of inflammation in the body associated with a number of disorders and conditions. "More and more, chronic inflammation is being associated with various disorders and conditions, says Dr. Peggy Zoccola, lead investigator and an assistant professor at the Ohio University in the United States. "The immune system plays an important role in various cardiovascular disorders such as heart disease, as well as cancer, dementia and autoimmune diseases."
Researchers studied 34 healthy young women who were given a public speaking task, during which two interviewers listened with "stony-faced" expressions. Researchers then asked the control group to focus on neutral cognitions while asking the rest to reflect on their performance in the task.
Blood samples don't lie. The women who ruminated on the negative event experienced increased levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of tissue inflammation produced by the liver in response to traumas, injuries or infections within the body. The marker also indicates susceptibility to disease later in life.
In the study, C-reactive protein levels in the ruminating women continued to rise for at least an hour after the event, whereas the others returned to normal, as reported in The Telegram.
"Researchers have asked people to report their tendency to ruminate, and then looked to see if it connected to physiological issues," says Zoccola. "It's been correlation for the most part."
Zoccola plans to further investigate the phenomenon among older adults, who might be more prone to ruminations and health problems.