HEART HEALTH: A study shows optimism is good for heart health, at least among men. University of Rochester Medical Center researchers found men who believed they were at a lower-than-average risk for cardiovascular disease actually experienced a three-times lower incidence of death from heart attacks and stroke. Another study out of Johns Hopkins finds people with a good attitude were half as likely as their less optimistic counterparts to experience a heart event such as sudden death, heart attack or chest pain that required surgery. Researchers observed the power of positive thinking even after adjusting for traditional risk factors for heart disease, including cholesterol, weight and cigarette smoking. "It's possible that the people with the positive attitude produce lower levels of stress hormones, which helps protect them from disease, " Diane M. Becker, Sc.D., M.P.H., senior author of the study, was quoted as saying.
CANCER: Recent studies about positive attitudes and fighting cancer aren't as optimistic. Having a good outlook may help cancer patients deal with their disease, but it doesn't directly affect survival according to one of the largest studies on the topic. The study included more than 1,000 people treated for head and neck cancer. The emotional state of patients was found to have no influence on survival. However, in a British study conducted in 2000, cancer patients with feelings of helplessness or hopelessness about their condition were less likely to survive compared to their more positive counterparts.
SOUND ADVICE: Palliative care experts say while the true value of a positive attitude is debated, it is important to remember not to blame the patient for their disease. "We tell people if you try hard enough you're going to get strong enough, so then the focus becomes on the patient and not the disease, and when they're unable to do it they've failed, and the truth is they didn't fail," Mohana Karlekar, M.D., a palliative care expert at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, told Ivanhoe.
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Cindy Nelson, Public Affairs
The Mayo Clinic