Sunday, October 11, 2015

Esther M. Sternberg M.D.: The Balance Within

From the Amazon listing:

The immune system was long believed to be autonomous -- unconnected to the brain; Sternberg, a neuroscientist at the National Institute of Mental Health, focuses here on research done over the last few decades that disproves this belief. 

She methodically details the history of this science -- describing, for example, the Nobel prize-winning work of three French scientists who, in 1958, discovered the "interleukins" (molecules that signal between cells), which led to further investigations into how immune cells communicate with the brain, and discussing the seminal but controversial work of Hans Selye, who in the 1950s explored the body's response to stress. 

Although Sternberg leavens her account with anecdotes and historical snapshots of early medical treatment, her litany of scientific experiments (mostly performed on rats) into the body-mind connection may overwhelm readers without any scientific background. 

Of greater interest are her reflections on the implications of this research for maintaining health and treating disease. 

According to Sternberg, physical and psychological stresses -- such as prolonged lack of sleep, divorce or social isolation -- can make people sick by adversely affecting their immune and hormonal responses. 

Conversely, a strong belief in healing rituals and prayer may help make them well (via the placebo effect). All in all, Sternberg is optimistic about the idea of bridging disciplines to develop new treatments for disease.

The director of the Molecular, Cellular, & Behavioral Interactive Neuroscience Program at the National Institutes of Health gives us one of the best recent books on emotions and health

Sternberg effectively draws on her ample research and clinical experience to provide detailed descriptions of the interrelationships of the immune, nervous, and endocrine systems and how they in turn relate to emotions and the body

Into her clear scientific exposition, she folds the lives and works of such fascinating researchers as Wilder Penfield and Hans Selye. She has the personal touch, as when she stresses the importance of face-to-face communication and contrasts it to the impersonal aspects of Internet communication

She has a feeling for place and vividly depicts Montreal and other settings. Finally, in her citation of medical cases, she enlightens and stimulates, as, for example, when in recalling a classic case of alert perception, she reveals the importance of total-body tattoos in the study of the lymphatic system. 

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