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UTAH’S MIND/BODY CONNECTION

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It was the kind of study that could make a scientist squirm: Two years ago a San Francisco cardiologist took 393 patients who had been admitted to his hospital's coronary intensive care unit and had them randomly assigned to one of two groups. This was not a clinical trial of a new drug or an experimental medical procedure. What Randy Byrd was interested in was prayer.

The names of half of his patients were phoned to strangers in various parts of the country, who were asked to pray for "beneficial healing and quick recovery." Because it was a double-blind study, neither the staff nor the patients themselves knew who was being prayed for and who was not.When the study was completed, Byrd's computer screen presented some intriguing data: The prayed-for patients got fewer infections, suffered less pulmonary edema, required no intubation, and were discharged from the hospital sooner than those patients who were not prayed for.

Clearly, Byrd had measured something. But the questions were still larger than the answers. What exactly was going on here? What is the physiology of one mind's effect on another, or the effect of some Greater Mind, or even the effect of a person's mind on his own body?

For a growing number of practitioners of what is known as mind/body medicine, these are the questions, they say, that will revolutionize the way medicine is practiced in the years go come.

Tamsie Cooper, a clinical social worker and University of Utah physiologist, is one of a group of Utah health professionals who hope to help lead the revolution.

"In the future," predicts Cooper, "historians will say, `It was in the 1990s that we finally put the body back together again.' "

THERE IS A LOT about medicine that is clear-cut. We know that bacteria can overpower a lung and antibiotics can overpower bacteria. You take out a diseased section of colon, set a broken bone, prescribe hypertension medicine and you can pretty safely predict what will happen.

But there are other things about the business of healing that are harder to measure. Why do some people experience "spontaneous remissions" of their cancers? Why, as one study suggests, do people without close relationships have a higher mortality rate than those with good friends and relatives? Why, faced with apparently the same illness, do some people die and others survive?

The notion that mind and body are joined in a holistic alliance has gained some credence and a significant following in recent years. A growing body of research suggests that there is a link, on the cellular level, between thoughts, emotions, disease and healing. Scientists have come up with an unwieldy term to try to encompass it all - psychoneuroimmunology.

The success of books like Dr. Bernie Sie-gel's "Love, Medicine and Miracles" has signaled a shift in public perception about the role of intangibles - like hope - in the healing process.

But it's all pretty fuzzy stuff. And that's where a group of Utah health professionals are about to enter the picture.

UNDER THE DIRECTION of Peg Michel, a medical social worker at LDS Hospital, the Mind/Body Task Force has been meeting for nearly two years, studying the newest findings, attending lunchtime lectures, sometimes traveling to other parts of the country to explore established programs.

If all goes according to plan, LDS Hospital will open a mind/body clinic in January 1991. The clinic follows in the footsteps of programs such as the Mind/Body Clinic at Boston's New England Deaconess Hospital, where Dr. Herbert Benson for years has been teaching stressed-out patients the "relaxation response."

What will put Utah's clinic at the forefront of mind/body medicine, however, say its founders, is a strong research component. The research will be carried out in collaboration with the University of Utah, under the direction of physician N. Lee Smith.

"If there is something out there that's helping to heal people, we need to nail that down," explains physiologist Cooper, a member of the Mind/Body Task Force.

There is a feeling among some mind/body researchers, says Cooper, that the connection between mind and body involves more than just a question of stress and frame of mind.

"They started out just trying to affect health by affecting a patient's attitude," she explains. This is what behavioral medicine proponents now call "Era Two Medicine," characterized by the notion that relaxation and a positive outlook can help rev up the immune system.

"But what these people have discovered," says Cooper, "is that there's something else going on. . . . They keep coming back to this nebulous spiritual aspect."

What many mind/body researchers believe now, she says, is that it is a feeling of connectedness - to other people and to the universe as a whole - that helps people heal.

"When you feel fearful, alone and distrustful, these are all things that turn your immune system off," says Cooper. "You have to have a lot of inner strength if you have nothing else to call on except yourself and what you can buy in terms of medical care.

"But if you feel connected and part of your community and you feel the universe is part of your home, that you were created by it, you don't feel alone, and you don't have to rely just on yourself to fight (your disease)."

"The bottom line," says Cooper, "is that you'll turn your immune system on."

THE CURRENT PLAN is for the LDS mind/body clinic to work with out-patients for eight weeks at a time, teaching them techniques such as "mindfulness meditation" - not so much to relax, says Cooper, as to develop an enhanced awareness that helps them better use the powers of their minds.

Cooper and her colleagues, including University of Utah physiologist Dick Burgess, will then measure what happens in the bodies of people who meditate vs. those that don't - are there changes in cortisol levels, for example? They will also look at medical outcomes - do the cancer patients at the clinic need lower levels of chemotherapy, for example?

The mind/body clinic will also continue to bring in speakers, such as Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, director of the University of Massachusetts Medical Center Stress Reduction Clinic, who will present a workshop in mid-September.

"Our goal," explains Peg Michel of the Mind/Body Task Force, "is to raise the consciousness of the community."