Religion a Health-promoting Factor

A look at the mind-body relationship.

By HAROLD SHRYOCK, M.D, Dean, College of Medical Evangelists, Loma Linda

Ask any Bible student to quote a text that advocates healthful living, and he will probably mention the first part of 3 John 2, "Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health." But he may neglect the last part of the verse. This is as important as the first, for it expresses the condition on which health is possible--"even as thy soul prospereth." Religion, that is, soul prosperity, is necessary to good physi­cal health.

"The relation that exists between the mind and the body is very intimate. When one is affected, the other sympathizes. The condition of the mind affects the health to a far greater degree than many realize. Many of the diseases from which men suffer are the result of mental depression. Grief, anxiety, discontent, remorse, guilt, distrust, all tend to break down the life forces, and to invite decay and death."—Ministry of Healing, p. 241.

An illustration of this mind-body relationship is the case of the patient who, when admitted to the hospital, was placed in a two-bed ward. The other patient in the ward was very ill. Part of his treat­ment consisted of the intravenous administration of large volumes of fluid. But in spite of all that was done for him, he passed away a few hours later.

The new patient's doctor, having no knowledge of the patient who had just passed away, ordered an intravenous injection for his patient. In due course the nurse brought in the same kind of equipment that had been used for the patient who died. There was the metal standard, the jar of sterile fluid, the long rubber tube, and the needle. Then the same intern came in and inserted the needle in the patient's arm just as he had done the previous day for the other patient.

The fluid had flowed for only a few minutes when the patient began to chill. Chills became so violent that even the bed shook. The doctor was called. At first he was alarmed, but when he finally learned of the circumstances surrounding the death of the other patient, he explained the symptoms as "just a nervous chill," and changed his orders so as to avoid any intravenous injections. So power­ful is the influence of the mind over the body that serious symptoms may result from hidden fears and anxieties!

Inasmuch as emotional tensions can cause symp­toms of disease, it is not surprising that they can also intensify the symptoms of an already existing organic disease. For instance, in the case of a person with diabetes, an emotional shock may so alter the body's chemistry as to render the patient unconscious with diabetic coma.

If emotional tensions can cause symptoms of dis­ease, and can intensify the symptoms of a well-recognized organic disease, may it not be that such tensions can even light the fuse that initiates the organic disease in the first place? Dr. G. Canby Robinson, of the Department of Preventive Medi­cine, Johns Hopkins University, School of Medi­cine, has made a special study of emotional factors and their relation to disease in a large number of patients. His conclusions are as follows:

"These studies indicate that about sixty-five per cent of the patients admitted to the outpatient medical service are confronted With adverse social conditions that are di­rectly related to their illness. These adverse social con­ditions cause emotional disturbances in over fifty per cent of the patients, and are the major precipitating cause of illness in about thirty-six per cent of the pa­tients.

"The first conviction that developed from these .*studies was that emotional and social problems disturb the health of a large proportion of the patients admitted to the medical service, most of whom are people of nor­mal or average mentality, that these disturbances are often present in patients with organic disease, where they are especially likely to be overlooked, and that they frequently constitute the major cause of illness.

"The second conviction was that giving proper atten­tion to emotional and social factors of illness not only is a means of revealing the total individual and the various factors disturbing his health, but also brings to light problems of treatment that are essential to the restora­tion of health. It was obvious, therefore, that the study of the personal problems of the patient is a field of medi­cal practice that deserves greater cultivation than it has had in the past, and is a component of medicine of para­mount importance in medical education...

"Emotional and social disturbances may create emo­tional fatigue, taking its toll of mental and physical health. When this toll begins to be paid in terms of symptoms such as digestive discomforts, unusual muscu­lar fatigue, headaches, sleeplessness, or cardiac palpita­tion, medical advice is sought."—"Proper Attention to the Role of Emotional and Social Factors in Illness as a New Step in Public Health," Bulletin of the Johns Hopkins  Hospital  74(4),  April,  1944,  pp.  259-265.

Of all the emotional tensions that cause a conflict within the personality and thus un­dermine the health, the tension of a troubled con­science is perhaps the most potent.

It fell to my lot a few months ago to serve at a State university on a screening committee charged with the duty of interviewing Army premedical students, and selecting for assignment to medical colleges those who gave promise of success in the field of medicine. Among those whom the commit­tee found it necessary to disqualify was a young man whose difficulty, I believe, was caused by a troubled conscience. He was a fine-looking youth, well mannered and pleasant. But he had been hav­ing difficulty in his schoolwork. Formerly he had made good grades, but his recent grades were poor. He had been ill with some mysterious sort of afflic­tion and had spent considerable time in the in­firmary.

"What is the matter with this young fellow?" we asked the personnel officer. "Well," he said, "he was reared in a religious home where strict stand­ards of right and wrong were taught. But when he came to the university he adopted a way of life which was out of harmony with his previous train­ing. He has been seeking pleasures that were for­bidden at home; he has been squandering his time in questionable amusements. He has, lost interest in his studies."

We talked with the young man. He did his best to put up a good front and to make an appeal, that he might be permitted to continue his study of medicine. But his appeal fell short of the mark. He realized that he was in danger of being dis­qualified, and so he sought out the various com­mittee members, after hours, and tried to make personal appeals. But the more he tried, the less promising he appeared to be. The last I heard of him he was taken back 'to the infirmary following the news that he had finally been disqualified.

"No one can appreciate so fully as a doctor the amaz­ingly large percentage of human disease and suffering which is directly traceable to worry, fear, conflict, im­morality, dissipation, and ignorance—to unwholesome thinking and unclean living."—WILLIAAI S. SADLER, Mod­ern Psychiatry (St. Louis : C. V. Mosby Co., 1945), p. 760.

In a recent book, Mental Health in College, by C. C. Fry, M.D., psychiatrist in the department of university health, Yale University, many pitiful case histories are cited of college stu­dents who became the victims of emotional con­flicts. It is surprising how many of these cases were young people who came from home environ­ments in which fundamentalism was advocated, to the university atmosphere, which was, of course, permeated with modernism. This conflict regard­ing the basic philosophy of life was admitted by the psychiatrist to have formed the background of several serious maladjustments.

Another example of an emotional conflict devel­oping in the realm of the conscience was told me in 1942 by a student whose friend had recently visited him. The friend had been reared as an Adventist, hilt was then working seven days a week in a defense plant in which seven-days-a­week employment was required. At the time of the conversation the young man was wanting to be married, but his fiancee, a stanch Adventist, would not marry him until such time as he chose to ab­stain from work on the Sabbath. And so, what could he do ? He could not marry her unless he refused to work on the Sabbath. If he refused to work on the Sabbath, he would lose his job. If he lost his job he would be drafted into the Army and would not be able to live with his wife. This is the type of conflict (if it persists) that readily produces disease.

"'In cases of functional cardiac pain, the pain is nearly always due to transformed anxiety arising from a conflict, unusual in intensity and abnormal in type be­tween menace to vital feelings and existence on the one side, and self-preservation and self-assertion on the other. It is almost a truism that those harassed by anxiety de­velop cardiac pain, if for some reason or other they are affected by some cardiac disorder.' "—G. BOURNE and E. WITTKOWER, "Psychotherapy in Cases With Cardiac Pain," British Heart Journal, February, 1940.

The Master recognized the relationship between the conscience (need of forgiveness) and the state of health, as seen in his experience with the palsied man. (Matt. 9:2-7.) Confession of sin is the only adequate remedy for a troubled conscience. Otherwise the sense of guilt may smolder for months and years, and finally bring on physical disease. In the new earth there will be no sickness, because there will be no iniquity. "The inhabitant shall not say, I am sick : the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity." Isa. 33:24.

The person with a healthy personality is willing to accept the future as a challenge and make the best of things as they come. There are others, however, who refuse to be resigned to future un­certainties. If unmarried, they fear they will never have an opportunity to marry ; if married, they fear the responsibility of children; if middle aged, they fear the possibility of a lonely old age. These poorly adjusted persons consume so much nervous energy on their fears that they actually deplete their vital forces to the extent that their physical health is impaired.

Then, with their attention drawn to their physi­cal ills, they develop new fears. If they are sub­ject to headache, they fear the possibility of brain tumor. Indigestion stimulates a fear of cancer. A mild cough initiates a fear of tuberculosis. In re­sponse to fear the heart beats faster, the blood pressure is elevated, the number of white blood cells is increased, the concentration of blood sugar is raised, and the activity of the stomach and in­testines is reduced. If a state of fear results from some persistent mental conflict, the body's response to the prolonged fear becomes chronic, and poor health if not actual disease results.

A certain amount of fear does serve a useful purpose, it must be remembered, and a person should not strive toward an entire abolition of his reaction of fear. A live wire, a slippery street, the possibility of infection from a pimple on the face, an overdrawn bank account—all these should pro­duce such a fear of consequences as will keep one out of trouble. In fact, even the Bible advocates a proper type of fear when it says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Ps. ifi :to. The person who refuses to recognize his obligation to the Almighty, and therefore fails to live in har­mony with the Biblical code of ethics, has abun­dant reason to fear the consequences of his way­ward course. But the person who fears God in the sense that he recognizes God's claims upon him, and lives in harmony with divine require­ments, has no reason to be haunted by fears of future happenings.

The missionary, committed to the task of bring­ing a new way. of life to those who have been un­derprivileged, places his entire confidence in the Providence that has guided him in his mission. With full reliance in God, he has nothing to fear. But a person does not have to be a missionary in order to have access to this means of nullifying fear. Anyone who believes in a personal God possesses the basis for a faith which enables him to rise above fear. The little child who is ordinar­ily afraid of the dark will take the hand of his father and walk through the darkest forest without a trace of fear. Just so, the genuine Christian, placing his trust in his heavenly Father, has no need to fear what may come to pass. "For God bath not given us the spirit of fear ; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." 2 Tim. i :7. (See also i John 5:4; John 14:27.)

"'The emotions of a man play an important part in the practice of medicine, and religion deals with emo­tions,' Dr. Will (Mayo) once said in discussing this phase of his work. 'I consider myself fundamentally a religious man. Yet I know there are manY to whom I cannot demonstrate the existence of God and the human soul as I can demonstrate some point in surgery to a class. But in my own heart I know there is a God and I know there is a human soul. Call it by any name you want, there is something in humanity that is above and beyond any material calculation of science. . . .

"'I have seen patients who were dead to all medical standards. We knew they could not live. But I have seen a minister come to the bedside of such a patient and do something for him that I could not do, although I had done everything in my professional power. But something touched some immortal spark in him, and in defiance of materialistic common sense, he lived.' "­Abstract of an article in Religious Digest, April, 1942, entitled "The Mayos and Religion," which appeared in Tlfa MINISTRY, March, 1943.

Professor Lawrence Stump, president of Philip­pine Union College and a former internee in a Japa­nese prison camp, recently said he had seen many persons break down under the nerve strain of war conditions, bereavement, uncertainty, treachery, etc. He had observed that when an internee lost his courage (his will to see it through) he did not live very long. When asked whether the loss of courage precipitated sudden loss of health, or loss of health produced the loss of courage, he re­marked, without hesitation, that the loss of cour­age preceded rapid physical decline. He also commented that Christians withstood the trying ordeals much better than those who did not have the stabilizing influence of a religious experience.

"He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increaseth strength." Isa. 40:29. "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden. . . . And ye shall find rest unto your souls." Matt. II :28, 29.


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By HAROLD SHRYOCK, M.D, Dean, College of Medical Evangelists, Loma Linda

January 1946

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