Across the centuries the connection that Solomon made between our emotions and our bones has baffled both theologians and physicians. Consider the following:
- "A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones" (Prov. 14:30, NIV).
- "A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones" (Prov. 15:30, NIV).
- "Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones" (Prov. 16:24).
- "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones" (Prov. 17:22).
We need not blush and apologize for Solomon's seeming naivete and unsound physiological awareness. Science is now revealing the mechanisms that confirm that Solomon knew what he was talking about.
Bones have many functions, one of which includes the production of different types of white blood cells, or leukocytes, in the red bone marrow. Some leukocytes, such as the macrophages, ingest unwanted and foreign objects. Others, like the T and B lymphocytes, combat antigens as well as over see and produce antibodies. The leukocytes play an indispensable role in the body's immune response.
For years scientists have been curious as to why red bone marrow and other lymphoid tissue such as the spleen are so richly supplied with nerves. Whatever their previous assumptions may have been, scientists now feel they know what is really going on. Using specialized techniques, they have found that many of the nerve endings communicate with specific leukocytes by making direct contact with them. This startling discovery led the researchers to ask, "Why?"
When certain chemicals were administered to rats in order to sever these nerves, they noticed that the immune response was greatly diminished. That is, the activity and number of circulating leukocytes were sup pressed. The same thing happened if the nerves were physically severed by a scalpel. If the nerves were stimulated, the immune response was significantly increased.
The researchers then looked for other ways of suppressing or enhancing the electrical activity of the nerves, which in turn modulates the immune response. What they found was that if rats, and more important, humans, are subjected to psychological stress that stretches their coping abilities, the immune suppression that results is as though the nerves had been physically severed, leading to a decrease in activity and number of leukocytes. The effect is transitory, of course, and depends upon the con text of the stressor, along with its severity, quality, and duration.
Dr. David Felten, a leading researcher in this field, notes that "changes in behavioral and emotional states that accompany the perception of, and the effort to adapt to, environmental circumstances are accompanied by complex patterns of neuroendocrine [nerve-hormone] changes. Animal and human studies implicate psychosocial factors in the predisposition to and initiation and progression of various pathophysiological processes." 1
Mind and health
The implications are clear. The state of mind has more to do with maintaining physical health than we may have considered possible. Solomon was years ahead of his time because his Creator had revealed to him that envy can cause the bone marrow to atrophy, immunologically speaking. So also can a crushed spirit. Conversely, a merry and peace-filled heart, pleasant words, and a cheerful look will give health to our bones and consequently to our en tire being.
The central nervous system is not alone in sending messages directly to our internal "infantry"; the leukocytes can also send status reports back to central command. To quote researchers again: "It now is evident that extensive neural-immune anatomical connections exist between the nervous and immune systems, with close contacts of nerves with lymphocytes and macrophages. ... It certainly is very clear that extensive bi-directional interactions occur between the nervous and immune systems, and that one system cannot be considered function ally without taking into account the state of activity of the other system."2
This subject more than any other has convinced me of Ellen White's prophetic gift. With uncanny accuracy she made statements at the turn of this century that are now being made by foremost researchers in this new and expanding field of psycho-neuroimmunology. For example, Ellen White states:
"The influence of the mind on the body, as well as of the body on the mind, should be emphasized. The electric power of the brain, promoted by mental activity, vitalizes the whole system, and is thus an in valuable aid in resisting disease. . . . The power of the will and the importance of self-control, both in the preservation and in the recovery of health, the depressing and even ruinous effect of anger, discontent, selfishness, or impurity, and, on the other hand, the marvelous life-giving power to be found in cheerfulness, unselfishness, gratitude, should also be shown. There is a physiological truth truth that we need to consider in the scripture, 'A merry [rejoicing] heart doeth good like a medicine' (Prov. 17:22)."3
When I first heard Jake give his personal testimony at a smoking-cessation clinic, I knew that Solomon had something to offer him. Jake had been financially successful in managing various business ventures, typically earning in excess of $250,000 per year. He had a beautiful home on the edge of a picturesque lake. Life seemed worth living until his wife walked out on him. His loss was compounded shortly thereafter when he was laid off at work and was unable to find another job to finish paying his home mortgage. He admitted that depression had led him to smoke more than he had before, up to five packs a day.
One day Jake, with chest pain, was admitted to the hospital. Before he knew it, quadruple bypass surgery was history. We met one month after the operation. He opened up and shared how he had actually tried to commit suicide by heavy smoking.
His secret desire was to kill himself "legitimately" so that his family could claim his life insurance payout and thereby annul the family's debts.
Jake's feelings of failure, depression, tension, and loss of control are commonplace, which is why I mention them. Although there are many things that one could do for Jake, I chose to dig a little deeper, hoping to uncover an expression of spiritual need. I was glad to discover that Christ was a very special friend to him. Using this, I applied Solomon's teaching. Not only did Jake quit smoking, but in almost fairy-tale fashion he found work and reunited with his wife.
"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil. It shall be health to thy navel, and mar row to thy bones" (Prov. 3:5-8).
Abiding in Christ brings physical health. No wonder Ellen White said that "the influence of the Spirit of God is the very best medicine for disease.... Even his physical health improves by the realization of his security in Christ."4
While I recognize the legitimate role of conventional medicine in treating depression and other mental disorders, I also see the need to apply natural, inexpensive, and easily accessible therapies. As examples, I offer four health-enhancing therapies that positively alter moods; you may be able to add many more to this list. These simple therapies could go a long way in pastoral counseling and leadership, protecting oneself against professional burnout and increasing the effectiveness of health behavior change programs such as smoking-cessation clinics.
Walking. Walking will accomplish many things. It will increase blood and lymphatic circulation, both essential for enhancing the immune function. Exercise will increase the production of and sensitivity to certain chemical mediators that affect mood. And then there is the therapeutic value of seeing a blue sky and sunshine.
Service. Encourage a spirit of active, unselfish, and preferably voluntary service for others. Says Ellen White: "The condition of the mind affects the health of the physical system. If the mind is free and happy, from a consciousness of right-doing and a sense of satisfaction in causing happiness to others, it creates a cheerfulness that will react upon the whole system, causing a freer circulation of the blood and a toning up of the entire body." 5 "One of the surest hindrances to the recovery of the sick is the centering of attention upon themselves."6
Praise. Since "nothing tends more to promote health of body and of soul than does a spirit of gratitude and praise," 7 it seems prudent that individually and corporately we praise God more often and be grateful to others who come our way. My wife and I practice a "therapy" before going to sleep. We each identify two people who have positively influenced us during the day and then share why. Not only is it then difficult to criticize such persons, but they be come objects of our fondest affections.
Greater spiritual and physical health might result if our church worship services allowed a special place for testimonies and expressions of praise and thanksgiving.
Laughter. "Laughing is a buoyant immersion in the presence of unanticipated glimpsings prompting harmonious integrity which surfaces anew through contemplative visioning!" 8 Patty Wooten, founder and president of Jest for the Health of It, says that "laughter stimulates the immune system, offsetting the immuno-suppressive effects of stress."9 In case you have not had a good chuckle for a while, you may recall that it is very difficult to not feel like a million dollars after a hearty laugh.
So don't you think that Christians should not only be the happiest people around, but have the healthiest bone marrow? I do.
1 R. Ader, N. Cohen, and D. Felten, "Psychoneuroimmunology:
Interactions Between the Nervous System
and the Immune System" Lancet 345 (1995): 99-103.
2 S. Felten, D. Felten, D. Bellinger, and I.
Olschowka/'Noradrenergic and Peptidergic Innervation
of Lymphoid Organs," Chemical Immunology 52
3 Ellen G. White, Education (Mountain View,
Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1952), p. 197.
4 Ellen G. White, Counsels on Health (Mountain View,
Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1951), p. 28.
5 Ibid., p. 28.
6 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View,
Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1942), p. 256.
7 [bid., p. 251.
8 R. Parse, "The Experience of Laughter: A Phenomenological
Study," Nursing Science Quarterly 6
9 P. Wooten, "Humor: An Antidote for Stress,"
Holistic Nursing Practice 10, No. 2 (1996): 49-56.