Mind Over Sports

Archive for March 2008

We often read in today’s sports pages about young male college athletes who violate their team’s code of acceptable behavior by doing drugs, becoming physically violent with a girl friend, getting into a fist fight outside a bar, and other inappropriate activities. In almost every instance the head coach is quoted in the media as saying: “We have a zero tolerance policy at this institution and do not tolerate this kind of behavior” and the athlete is immediately cut from the team, often expelled from the university and sent on his way. And very often, these are the same coaches who visited the athlete’s parents in their home and told them that if their son decided to play with his team that he would be like a second father to him. Really? Since when does a father not get his son help when the son gets into trouble, rather than just cutting him loose to fend for himself? Many coaches today give lip service to caring about their athletes, but their true commitment shows up in what they do, not what they say. These coaches are more concerned about how a violation of team policies reflects on the university or college and could even affect their own employment with their school. I once worked with an NCAA Division 1 basketball team and one of the players, half-way through the season, was discovered “doing drugs” and stealing from his teammates in order to finance his habit. When caught, the coach sent him packing on a bus at 2 o’clock in the morning. What that coach should have done, if he really cared about this player, was to get the player professional help. And the coach’s behavior sent a clear message to the remaining members of the team. That is, he really didn’t care about their personal issues and problems but was only interested in having them (the players) make him (the coach) look good.

Roger Willard grew up in an upper-middle-class family where money was never an issue. Yet, by today’s standards his family would be considered dysfunctional. There was little nurturing or love, and almost no physical contact, such as hugging. There were days when, as a teenager, Roger often felt no one cared about him. He never had a true home, a place where he felt nurtured in a way that confirmed his life. He attended the best private schools and graduated from college. After college, he took over his father’s company and soon his income was well into six figures. He, his wife and two children belonged to one of the finest country clubs. They enjoyed two, and sometimes three vacations a year. Everything seemed to be going well, but in the late 1980’s, Roger’s life took a turn for the worse. His company’s sales dropped dramatically, and he was forced into personal bankruptcy. A few months later he was diagnosed as having cancer.

Tim Johnson, in contrast, grew up in a lower-middle-class family where money was an issue, as there was little of it. But in later life, he would always say he never knew his family was poor and there was always lots of love, nurturing and hugging among family members. He knew he could count on his mother and father to stand by him in times of trouble. After graduating from high school, Tim worked his way through college. He then went to work for a small company, eventually buying it from the retiring owner. He and his family belonged to a country club and managed at least one family vacation a year. Everything seemed to be going well, but in the late 1980’s, Tim’s business also experienced a severe drop in sales and he was forced into personal bankruptcy. Within a year, Tim found a new job in a new industry and began to work his way, once again, up the financial ladder.

These two personal histories clearly make the point that it is not the issue that creates stress for us, but rather our perception of the issue — and we perceive issues based on how we feel about ourselves, or our self-esteem.

While Roger’s self-image was almost exclusively identified with his wealth, Tim’s was founded on the love and nurturing he received as a child. While Roger felt his friends would abandon him because he no longer had money, Tim’s perspective was, “So what if they’re no longer my friends. They couldn’t have been such great friends in the first place.” Roger dwelled on his problems, always looking back at the past and placing blame on others for his misfortune. Tim accepted responsibility for what had happened to him, and his attitude was, “Look, I did everything that was humanly possible to do. It didn’t work, and now I’m moving on.”

For those of us who subscribe to the “surveillance mechanism” theory of cancer and the concept of “psychoneuroimmunology,” the reason why Roger was more prone to developing cancer and Tim was less prone is explainable. There is ongoing research by doctors, psychologists and medical institutions in this relatively new field of medicine. It is certainly worth investigating. Although I am not a scientific researcher, I can provide anecdotal evidence, much of it from workshops.

According to Dr. Julian Whitaker, of the Whitaker Wellness Institute, “cells can be damaged by low oxygen tension, X-rays, animal fat, ultraviolet light, excessive carbon monoxide, nicotine and other environmental poisons. Cells then change and become cancer cells.” But because our immune system is constantly devouring the damaged cells, we remain healthy. When stress is experienced the immune system becomes depressed, and damaged cells begin to multiply at a rate faster than they can be devoured. It was interesting when Nelson Mandela visited this country and made a statement regarding HIV and Aids. If one were to apply his point-of-view to the tobacco industry and cancer, it would come out like this: “Do cigarettes alone cause cancer? Or is there some other force at work in combination with smoking? There is some other force at work.”

My position for many years has been that cigarettes, in and of themselves, do not cause cancer. But the nicotine tar from cigarettes does attach itself to healthy cells, and damages them by cutting off their supply of oxygen. Fortunately, our immune system is constantly gobbling them up like Pac-Man. But when we encounter extreme stress in our lives, often produced by our own feelings of self-worth, our immune systems become suppressed and the cancer cells take over our body.

It is not unusual for the media to give wide exposure to flawed or slanted studies. One example is a study conducted with emotionally disturbed children. Researchers compared families in which there was a divorce with families that stayed together. They determined that when families stay together the likelihood of producing emotionally disturbed children is lessened. The research did not examine whether these children received love and nurturing, because this is behavior that is almost impossible to track, and even when tracked, involves a subjective evaluation. Research measures only what is measurable and ignores other non-measurable influences, thus producing conclusions that are excellent examples of Merton’s concept of the “reign of error.”

This kind of research reminds me of the story of the man who was on his hands and knees under a streetlight at night. Someone asked: “What are you doing on your hands and knees?”

“I lost a ten-dollar bill, and I’m looking for it,” the man said.

“Where did you lose it?”

“Over there in those bushes about twenty feet away.”

“Well, why are you looking over here?” he was asked.

To which he responded: “The light’s better.”

We always seem to look for answers where it’s most convenient to find them.

Another example of flawed — or purposely slanted studies — involves the relationship of the consumption of milk to the body’s calcium supply. There are many who believe drinking vast amounts of milk will build the calcium supply in bodies and strengthen bones. But, according to Dr. Julian Whitaker, this simply isn’t true. And this type of thinking is especially dangerous for pregnant women.

Dr. Whitaker maintains:

The best way to deplete your calcium supply is by consuming a steady diet of milk and meats. Both introduce to the body high amounts of protein, and excess amounts of protein cause calcium wasting. In order to get rid of the nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorus, the body has to create urea and uric acid. Both of these create an acid condition in the blood that mobilizes calcium as a buffer. Calcium comes out of the bones and into the blood. Then when the kidneys rid themselves of the excess amounts of protein, they also rid themselves of the calcium. So a high-protein diet keeps a constant mobilization of our stored calcium from our bones right out into the urine.

Whitaker goes on to point out that cancer of the colon is a disease of excess protein. And he believes too much protein creates stress for kidneys.

But what about all the studies regarding the health benefits of milk and meat? Dr. Whitaker claims that many of these studies are being funded by the dairy and meat industries, producing results that are slanted.

And one final example of slanted research. There are many people in this country who suffer from migraine headaches, but have been told that their headaches are hereditary, or the result of stress, or a nervous condition. But the real reason may be they have eaten food containing MSG, monosodium glutamate. MSG is a chemical flavor enhancer — or additive — used for the purpose of masking inferior-quality processed foods. The Glutamate Association of the United States takes the position that there has been extensive scientific research to prove that there are no harmful effects of MSG. But it’s never been revealed who paid for the research. Some independent studies have shown that consuming MSG causes, in addition to migraines, irritability, cramps and diarrhea. Dr. John Olney, a neuroscientist, says MSG could even cause brain damage. And Dr. George R. Schwartz, in his book about the MSG syndrome, stated: “In the past 20 years, the additive (MSG) has been implicated in migraine headaches, asthma attacks, depression, premenstrual syndrome and reactions resembling epileptic seizures in children.” An yet, the federal government allows this dangerous chemical to be included in our food, especially in restaurant fare.

1. Cellular Phones. Some research is finding that radio frequencies producing high radiation levels may damage cells, causing them to become cancerous. Cellular phone research should not be focused on those individuals who have been diagnosed with cancer, but rather on the number of cells in an individual’s body that have been damaged by radiation and become cancerous, but as yet, have remained undetected.

2. Overhead Power Lines. The National Association for the Advancement of Science, at an annual session discussing “Do Power Lines Cause Cancer?” concluded that weak magnetic fields created by electric power lines, home wiring, and household appliances may be harmful to human health.

3. Electric blankets.

4. Microwave ovens.

5. Underground Waste Deposits.

6. Animal Fat from grease. During the U.S. Supreme Court?s hearing of a Massachusetts law that restricted the advertising of cigarettes near schools and parks, Justice Clarence Thomas stunned spectators by asking a question of acting U.S. Solicitor General Barbara Underwood, who was representing the federal government, which was siding with the state of Massachusetts. Thomas asked Underwood to “assume that it can be demonstrated that eating regularly at fast food joints, including McDonald’s, causes health problems throughout life for kids,” and then asked her what the rationale would be for restricting advertising by McDonald’s. Underwood rejected the comparison, saying that cigarettes posed “a health danger of unparalleled magnitude.” But?does it?

7. Ultraviolet rays from the sun.

8. Exhaust fumes from heavy duty equipment.

A study by the National Cancer Institute shows that farmers who use pesticides to control insects face increased risks of several forms of cancer. However, the study does not measure the degree of stress experienced by those farmers who became ill.

New research indicates a “molecular communication” between the nervous system (the seat of memory, thought and emotion), the endocrine system (which secretes powerful hormones), and the immune system (which defends the body from microbial invasions).

Elizabeth Rosenthal, a research journalist, wrote an article for the New York Times in which she stated:

Unusual cancer patterns among transplant patients are providing startling insights into the body’s immunity against cancer. To prevent rejection of the transplanted organ, these patients must take drugs that suppress the immune system. The immune system can be recharged, however, by reducing the medication and tumors sometimes vanish when that is done. Such cases have provided the first practical way to observe the immune system fighting cancer. Observing these patients, researchers have concluded that the healthy immune system can destroy early tumors and probably is routinely fighting cancerous cells.

Conversely, research is beginning to show that people with an impaired immune system are more vulnerable to cancer. Many of them suffer from deep-rooted feelings of inadequacy.
Now, returning to our case histories, let us assume both Roger and Tim had similar diets that included meats, fried foods, starches, vegetables and some sugars. As mentioned before, according to the surveillance mechanism theory, healthy cells are damaged — and in this case let us assume it was because of animal fat in the diet. The fat attaches itself to the cells, cutting off the oxygen supply. Normally, a strong immune system would constantly “gobble up” the malignant cells, keeping them from spreading throughout the body. But when the body encounters stress, it produces hormones that suppresses the immune system, and allows the damaged cells to multiply faster than the immune system is able to consume them. According to an article that appeared in Newsweek Magazine: ?Research has shown that chronic stress causes the adrenal gland to pump increased amounts of corticosteroids into the bloodstream, and these chemical messengers can inhibit immune action.? While Tim’s immune system continued to be healthy and strong, Roger’s was likely suppressed by the stress he experienced with his bankruptcy issue.

This process may be a significant reason African-Americans have such a high cancer rate. They have unhealthy diets (many fried foods) and experience massive stress, both socially and economically. Their death rate from cancer is twice that of their white counterparts.

There are those who maintain the proper response is merely a matter of educating blacks about nutrition. But it’s more than that. The problem is economics. To prepare and eat healthy foods is more expensive. Compare the cost of fresh vegetables and fresh fruit and fish to hamburgers or fried food when you feed a family with an income below the poverty level.

The following is a chapter from Marv’s new book, “The psi Factor.”

The idea for writing this chapter came to me a number of years after I had worked with cancer patients and sickle cell patients. At first I was hesitant to mention what I had learned from conducting workshops with them because I knew the medical profession balked at discussing the mind-body connection. Now, however, that attitude has changed considerably.

Even though I’ve conducted extensive study in this subject area, I am not a doctor nor do I profess to be an expert in psychology. I never watched rats run a maze, never talked to people lying on a couch. I do have experience in the dynamic real world, having conducted experiential self-esteem building workshops. Many of the findings I cite come from my interaction with participants in small support group environments.

Once I made a presentation to a group which included several doctors. A few became quite hostile and refused even to listen to what I said. They seemed unable to hear that I do not view my ideas as alternative medicine, but rather supplemental. I always encourage individuals attending my workshops to follow their doctors’ recommendations and prescribed treatment — and emphasize that my program is in addition to treatment they are receiving from their physicians.

I want to make it clear that I have only admiration for doctors. But I do believe many of them, unknowingly, harm some of their patients by creating the nocebo effect, a negative expectation regarding an illness. These physicians, of course, are not doing this intentionally. They feel they are being honest with their patients based on conventional medical wisdom and knowledge.

A chapter in the late Norman Cousin’s book Head First recounts how George Washington died, by being bled to death by his doctors. At that time, bleeding a patient was accepted treatment for an illness. Up to about 25 years ago many doctors belittled the idea of a relationship between diet and heart conditions and cancer. A few years into the future, I believe oncologists will stop recommending chemotherapy because of damage it does to the immune system.

Doctors today, as many will quickly tell you, do not have all the answers. In a New York Times article, the writer pointed out that “medical care today is often based on much less solid scientific evidence than is assumed . . . Dr. David Eddy of the Jackson Hole Group has estimated that no more than 15 percent of medical interventions are supported by reliable scientific evidence.”

This is especially true when treating psychosomatic illnesses. Physicians have the technology to fix something if it’s broken, but matters of the mind are something they really don’t learn much about in medical school — and many doctors have little interest in pursuing it.

People with low self-esteem will generally back off from any self-image type of training because they will do anything rather than look inside themselves and face issues they have been avoiding. It’s almost like holding a cross up to the proverbial vampire — the vampire shields himself — or herself — and recoils in horror. Some people will even choose death rather than deal with and resolve important issues in their lives.

A well-known professional football player had enormous personal issues in his life but because of his stature in the community refused to confront them publicly. He considered himself a role model for children, and felt going public with his problems would reflect badly on him. He kept his secrets bottled up inside himself and subsequently, he created his own stress, which affected his immune system — and he died of cancer. He was a wonderful, kind human being. But sometimes when we are famous, it becomes a two-edged sword, because our perception of how we believe we are being viewed by the community — or even the nation — may keep us from taking action necessary to save ourselves.

At a dinner attended by 400 people where this athlete was introduced from the audience, the emcee conveyed the feelings of everyone in the room when he announced that “we are all pulling for you to get well.” As the emcee pointed out, and everyone knew, the athlete had cancer and was fighting for his life. This was an excellent example of how we unknowingly create negative expectations for people with an illness. What the emcee should have said was — this individual was really no different from anyone else in the room since we all have cancer cells in our bodies, but he was putting his cancer aside and was working on enhancing his immune system to make it stronger so that he would eventually put his illness into remission as so many other people had done successfully.

The opposite is also true. A young attorney, while putting in 70-hour weeks at his office, was diagnosed as having a malignancy. He cut back his work week, which lowered the number of hours he was able to bill, resulting in less income for the law firm. His partners, being greedy and avaricious, complained he wasn’t pulling his weight. They wanted him to either work more hours or reduce the amount of money he drew from the firm. Because of their greed, they showed little mercy. But the benefit was, they did not display a solicitous attitude, feeling sorry for him, thereby creating a nocebo effect, or an environment of negative expectations. Subsequently, by following his doctor’s recommendations and using some of the ideas discussed later in this chapter, he put his illness into remission and was able to extend his life for a few years. His partners’ greed, and the way in which he was treated, I believe contributed directly toward extending his life.

Here’s a true weight loss program that absolutely does work. I call it my “Chocolate Oreo and Skim Milk” Diet. First, for breakfast, you should eat a normal breakfast. In fact, breakfast should be your biggest meal.

At 3pm, you eat a normal lunch. And that’s it. No supper. In place of supper you can have, around 7pm if you get hungry, a chocolate Oreo and a glass of skim milk. And that’s it. Or, you can have a bowl of cereal with skim milk. Or a hand full of almonds. Most personal trainers will tell you that the worst thing you can do is to eat a large meal at 6 or 7 or 8 o’clock and let the food just settle on your stomach and stay there all night. That’s how people become overweight and even obese. So I promise you, if you follow this diet (and basically cut out supper) you will lose weight. It worked for me and it can definitely work for you.


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