Exploring the mind-body connection

September 1, 2005

Rochester, N.Y. — Researchers here are embarking on a variety of projects to help determine to what extent the mind exacerbates and, in some cases, ameliorates health problems including skin diseases.

Rochester, N.Y. - Researchers here are embarking on a variety of projects to help determine to what extent the mind exacerbates and, in some cases, ameliorates health problems including skin diseases.

In May, the Rochester Center for Mind-Body Research (RCMBR), part of the University of Rochester, launched its first three pilot studies to explore how factors such as depression and stress contribute to disease in the aging body.

Among these studies is a project that will follow 16 psoriasis patients to determine the impact of sleep patterns on this illness.

She is chair of the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) department of dermatology and lead researcher on the psoriasis study, which at press time was seeking patients for enrollment.

Role of sleep deprivation, stress

Dr. Pentland's study is "very interesting," says Richard G. Fried, M.D., Ph.D., a board-certified dermatologist and clinical psychologist (and clinical director of Yardley Dermatology and Yardley Skin Enhancement and Wellness Center, Yardley, Pa.). "There's no question that a percentage of psoriasis patients will do much worse with sleep deprivation and stress. What remains to be seen is, what percentage of patients will be negatively affected, and whether or not this will give us a better ability to quantify which factors are more likely to flare the disease.

"I don't believe we're ever going to be able to look at somebody and say, 'if you sleep only six hours, this will be the effect on your psoriasis. If you feel anxious, this will be the effect.' Every patient is different. And psoriasis, like any of the inflammatory skin diseases, is affected by many other factors" that impact the immune system, such as colds or flu.

Importance of stress management

"Ideally," Dr. Fried says, "it would behoove every patient with inflammatory skin disease to learn and practice stress management techniques for their overall wellness and to (reduce) one of the known triggers." However, he says, "I tell every patient who decides to embrace a stress management technique, 'there are many reasons why your skin misbehaves. I want to make clear that statistically speaking, your skin is going to do much better if you embrace these techniques. But that doesn't mean that if your skin flares tomorrow, it's not because you're not doing something right or failed to manage your stress level."

Still under investigation

Other issues being explored at the RCMBR include:

Pivotal study

The pivotal study in this regard showed that treatment with cyclophosphamide prolongs the lives of animals that genetically suffer from lupus nephritis, Francisco A. Tausk, M.D., professor of dermatology and psychiatry at URMC and lead researcher on the study, says.