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Staying Positive with Liver Disease

Coping with a condition deemed incurable has a serious impact on your emotional well-being. Receiving a depressing diagnosis by your physician while already experiencing extreme discomfort, pain and fatigue adds to an already challenging situation. Regardless of the stage of your disease or its outlook, learn why there is always room for optimism and hope.

Editor’s Note: The following information is an opinion expressed by the author, and is not intended to replace or supersede the advice of a physician.

It is easy to see why someone with advanced liver disease can spiral into despair. With the medical community’s understanding of cirrhosis or liver cancer, there is no scientifically proven path to completely return the liver to its previous, healthy state. A doctor’s therapeutic focus is aimed at removing any offending factors, preventing further disease progression and providing supportive care.

The physical maladies experienced with advancing liver disease can corroborate a pessimistic prognosis of a physician. Whether feeling the side effects of treatment or the repercussions of a diseased liver, having pain, nausea and fatigue makes it even harder to maintain hope for a return to health. However, no matter where your illness takes you, you can always consider the next best possible thought.

The Next Best Thought
Reaching for the next best possible thought is an alternative to simply falling into despair. Hoping to move from depression to joy in one swoop is often an unrealistic goal to achieve. The secret to eventually reaching hope is to progress incrementally by finding ‘the next best thought’. Shifting one’s thoughts from anger to frustration may be a small step, but it is a move in the right direction. Moving in the right direction is characterized by:

• Choosing a thought that makes you feel just a little bit better.
• Choosing a thought that gives you an increased feeling of power or hope.

Manipulating your thoughts in this way takes practice, but once a person recognizes their capability for thought control, reaching for the next best possible thought will require less and less effort.

A vast amount of evidence demonstrates that a positive outlook can improve health and even speed recovery from a serious ailment or surgery. The attitudes that seem to help the most are optimism, hope, and, above all, a feeling that you have some impact on the quality and direction of your own life. No one really understands how or why a positive attitude helps people recover faster from surgery or cope better with serious diseases, but mounting evidence suggests that these effects may have something to do with the mind’s influence on the immune system:

• University of Toronto researchers interviewed 300 women who had been cancer-free for at least two years. They asked the women what they’ve done to prevent its return. Sixty percent of respondents believed a positive attitude kept them healthy.

• At the University of Wisconsin, researchers monitored the brain activity of 52 men and women and asked them to write about emotionally negative moments in their lives. Researchers then injected each subject with a flu shot and tracked the level of antibodies in their blood to discover how well their bodies were fighting the virus in the vaccine. They found that subjects with high electrical activity in a certain area of the brain during the emotional writing task produced lower levels of antibodies, indicative of impaired immunity.

• Researchers at the State University of Londrina in Brazil reviewed experimental animal models, human studies and clinical evidence suggesting the immune system is compromised by chronic stress and depression. They concluded that many factors indicative of immunity, (white blood cell counts, response to cellular damage, stress hormones, antibody production) were compromised with stressed or depressed subjects.

• According to the Coping with Depression and Hepatitis C publication, positive thinking is a learned skill. A study of people with chronic fatigue evaluated those that often said to themselves and others, “I am tired.” Two groups were then formed where half the group was not instructed to do anything different, while the other half was instructed to substitute the phrase, “I am getting my energy back.” every time they felt tired. The people in the second group reported a significantly reduced fatigue level.

This last study exemplifies how the power of positive thinking can be a useful tool in overcoming the fatigue of liver disease. The study’s authors advocate practicing positive thinking even if you do not believe it. Over time, positive thinking becomes a habit, incorporating the power of their mind and will in improving liver health.

Internet message and chat boards specific to liver disease are full of success stories posted by individuals touting positive thinking as their savior. Some consider their illness as their path to renewed spirituality, while others found that it prompted them to appreciate every day of their lives. Personal reports of joy as means for survival are everywhere. Visit to see and connect with Hepatitis C patients who are handling their own diagnosis and treatment.

For the most part, the medical community agrees that initiating positive thinking will increase survival and recovery odds. This is a completely different perspective than suggesting a bad attitude caused a disease or prohibits healing. The evidence implies that finding something to feel good about will positively affect your physical body, giving you more fuel to fight the disease at hand. Since a person battling liver disease needs every ounce of immune power they can muster, finding ways to improve one’s thoughts will only point their body in a healthy direction.

Hicks, Esther and Jerry, Ask and It is Given, Hay House, Inc., Carlsbad, CA, 2004.

LeShan, Lawrence, PhD, Cancer As a Turning Point, Penguin Putnam, Inc., New York, New York, 1994.

Strand, Erik, Think Positive, Psychology Today, November/December 2003.

Suzanne C. Segerstrom, Ph.D., et al., Optimism is Associated With Mood, Coping, and Immune Change in Response to Stress, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Volume 74, Number 6, June 1998., Coping with Depression and Hepatitis C, Lucinda K. Porter, RN, Eric Dieperink, MD, Hepatitis C Support Project, July 2003., Positive Thinking: A Skill for Stress Relief, Mayo Clinic Staff, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, June 21, 2005., Study Verifies Power of Positive Thinking,
Lauran Neergaard, Associated Press, November 28, 2005., Positive Thinking for Better Health, Digital Output Inc., 2005., Stress and depression-induced immune dysfunction: implications for the development and progression of cancer, Reiche EM, Morimoto HK, Nunes SM, Int Rev Psychiatry, 17(6):515-27, December 2005., The Power of Positive Thinking, Jane Framingham, PhD, John M. Crohol, PsyD, May 29, 2006., Depression Doing the Thinking, Hara Estroff Marano, Psychology Today, 2006.

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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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