If you’ve ever been diagnosed with a disease or a condition, then you surely know how it can change your life. As soon as you found out, your self-perception changed. You probably also changed other aspects of your life, such as your diet, your lifestyle, or behaviors that were recommended or discouraged in light of the diagnosis.
There’s another layer to this issue that has long been ignored by the Medical Establishment: that your ideas and feelings about an “illness” or diagnosis have a scientifically-proven impact on your recovery.
Today we’ll look at the perception of illness, and how it shapes illness itself. This conversation will ring particularly true for anyone who has received an osteoporosis or osteopenia diagnosis. A change in the way you perceive your bone health can alter how you behave and feel. Additionally, the Medical Establishment’s mislabeling of osteoporosis as a “disease” creates unnecessary stress and negativity. As you’ll learn today, studies have confirmed that this is counter-productive to building stronger, more resilient bones and to healing in general.
Thinking About A Disease
When you get a diagnosis from your doctor, the new information typically causes a cascade of thoughts about the condition and its potential outcome. This thinking pattern can help to determine how you will manage the condition.
The emotions can vary a great deal. You could feel devastated, anxious, defeated or, on the flip side, determined and hopeful. It’s easy to imagine how these different feelings might influence your willingness to engage with the newly acquired condition, or how stridently you will pursue a course of intervention.
The thoughts and ideas that individuals have about a particular illness may have been acquired from sources that may or may not be relevant or dependable; a family member’s experience, a character in a work of fiction, a story on the local news, prior personal experience, or research.
Every patient creates a mental model of their illness and all of the relating factors. They will then use that model to guide their behavior in relation to it: to cope with the symptoms, the emotional stress it creates, and to work towards recovery.
Research has shown that when patients experience symptoms, they feel pressured to find a label or explanation for them. When they receive a diagnosis, they will seek out the symptoms that they expect to experience, even if the illness is asymptomatic. They may misattribute unrelated symptoms to their illness to create a sense of control and a means of monitoring their illness or guiding their use of medication.1
Simplifying The Complexity Of How We Perceive Disease
An article in the journal Clinical Medicine examined a number of studies on illness perception and broke it down into five components.1 They are:
- Identity of Illness
- Causal Beliefs
- Timeline Beliefs
- Beliefs About Control or Cure
Let’s review each one, beginning with…
Identity answers the question of what the illness is all about, and what physical effect it will have. For example, if you woke up with a sore throat and cough, you might think that you caught a cold. As a part of that illness perception, you might expect to experience other symptoms too, like a runny nose, or sinus congestion. This anticipation leads to more stress, which can make it more difficult for your body to recover and also harms your bones.
Because the Medical Establishment labels osteoporosis as a disease, the diagnosis places a large emotional burden on the patient. By turning it into a disease, Mainstream Medicine made osteoporosis something a patient “owns”, rendering him or her into a powerless recipient. The perception of having a disease brings on the stress of perceiving oneself as ill. And as Savers know, chronic or prolonged periods of stress are deleterious to bone health and overall health.
The Osteoporosis Reversal Program correctly redefines osteoporosis as a condition of the skeletal system that is a result of the aging body’s attempt to correct a biochemical imbalance. It’s not something a person has; it’s just a description of the current state of the bones, a state that is alterable through diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes.
Causal beliefs are what a patient thinks caused the onset of an illness or condition. People tend to formulate ideas about how they contracted or developed a disease most often based on what the doctor tells them and their analysis of past behavior.
This perception is particularly important because it leads to behavioral changes that could be beneficial. If someone is diagnosed with heart disease and they believe it was caused by smoking or a lack of exercise, they might start exercising and stop smoking to reduce their risk of a heart attack. However, when there isn’t a clear correctable behavior on which to place causation, self-blame can become a stressful and destructive response.
A diagnosis of osteoporosis can be particularly traumatizing because many people do not have a clear understanding of bone remodeling and the factors that influence that ongoing cellular activity. This can lead patients to feel that the causes of osteoporosis are factors out of their control, namely age, sex or genetics. While it’s true that these play a role, unfortunately, most patients don’t know that their newly acquired “disease” is reversible with proper nutrition, exercise, and easy lifestyle changes.
If you can accurately align your causal beliefs with likely causes of illness, you can better plot a course to recovery. Likewise with osteoporosis, if you understand what led to a loss of bone density, you can work toward regaining it.
Timeline beliefs are an individual's understanding of the duration of an illness. They might expect a particular health problem to resolve quickly, or conversely, they may imagine that it will stick around for their entire life. These different perceptions (potentially of the same illness) influence a person’s approach to his or her condition. Thinking a disease can be dealt with swiftly, leads to more decisive action than thinking it’s incurable.
When a doctor tells you that you “have” osteoporosis and are at a high risk of debilitating and life-changing fractures, it sounds as though you're stuck with that label for life, unless you take the drug he or she will prescribe. In an ideal world, instead of using scare tactics, doctors should inform you that you’re not stuck with osteoporosis, and that bone loss is reversible without taking drugs. That creates a dramatically different timeline belief that encourages immediate action.
Control Or Cure
A person’s perception of causation and timeline of a disease are closely linked to their beliefs about their ability to control or cure it. If the causal beliefs include factors that can be changed to improve the condition, then they’re likely to have a strong certitude in their ability to control or cure what ails them. A perception of a greater level of control correlates to a shorter timeline of illness belief. All of these beliefs influence behaviors and actions that have an impact on the outcome.
For example, if you believe that you can improve your bone health by engaging in bone-building exercises on a regular basis, then you’re more likely to take action, leading to improved bone health.
The last characteristic of illness perception is consequences, which describes the effect individuals believe a diagnosis will have on their life, work, family, or finances. A belief in serious and undesirable consequences often reflects a person’s perception of the severity of their condition, which might not align with their actual clinical condition. In fact, it has been scientifically shown that study subjects with the most negative perception of their condition had worse outcomes than patients with the same severity of condition but a less negative perception of it.1
The combination of the five factors described above are the basic components for illness perception, and its impact on health is well documented.
As explained in the Clinical Medicine study:
“A number of studies have shown that when patients hold generally negative illness perceptions about their illness (e.g. a large number of symptoms associated with the condition, more severe consequences, longer timeline beliefs) these perceptions are associated with increased future disability and a slower recovery, independent of the initial medical severity of the condition.”1
A study of 1,000 patients who visited their doctor with a new health problem further confirms the above quote. Those with the most negative illness perception wound up seeking more healthcare, regardless of the clinical severity rating assigned by their doctor.2
Another study applied a cognitive behavioral intervention designed to alter patients’ illness perceptions following a heart attack. This intervention created significant positive changes in patients’ illness perception, and those patients got back to work sooner than those who only received standard care.3 This offers more proof that illness perception has an impact on physical recovery.
Even your lifespan can be affected by the way you perceive your health. Research conducted at Stanford University found that study subjects who perceived themselves as less physically active than others in a similar age range died at a younger age than those who believed they were more active, even if their actual activity levels were more or less the same.4
Clearly, your mind holds an incredible amount of power, controlling the body in both conscious and unconscious ways. Fortunately, we have the ability to examine our own beliefs and thoughts, and we can take action to shift them if necessary.
Changing Your Perception Of Osteoporosis
If you’ve received an osteoporosis or osteopenia diagnosis, then chances are you already have an illness perception. How do you identify this condition? What are your beliefs about causation, timeline, control, and consequences? Answer these questions for yourself, and have a look at whether your perceptions are negative or positive.
If they’re negative, it’s time to start changing the way you think about your power to improve your bone health. Reading this article has started you down the path of reassessment and realignment utilizing the information you’ve learned today.
Learning about the true causes of bone loss, and what can help to restore it, will help you to build a positive perception of your bone health. And if you haven’t yet, you’ll find it all in the Osteoporosis Reversal Program.
Stop Worrying About Your Bone Loss
Join thousands of Savers from around the world who have reversed or prevented their bone loss naturally and scientifically with the Osteoporosis Reversal Program.
The Program dedicates an entire chapter to dismantling the flawed osteoporosis definition created by the Medical Establishment. In fact, it instructs the reader to disown the “disease.” Plus it contains a clear explanation of the intricacies of bone metabolism, paired with actionable steps for helping your bones grow denser, stronger, and more flexible, so you can live the full and worry-free life you deserve.
Till next time,
1 John Weinman, Keith J Petrie. “Why illness perceptions matter.” Clinical Medicine. November 2006. 6-6-563. Web: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6573235_Why_illness_perceptions_matter?enrichId=rgreq-86b91c76cded8599a63baec20f3a4440-XXX&enrichSource=Y292ZXJQYWdlOzY1NzMyMzU7QVM6MTk4NTMzODM2NzQyNjU4QDE0MjQzNDU1NjM5MDk%3D&el=1_x_2&_esc=publicationCoverPdf
2 Frostholm L, Fink P, Christensen KS et al. “The patients’ illness perceptions and the use of primary health care” Psychosom Med. 2005;67:997–1005. Web: https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/external-references?article=0033-3174(2005)67L.997[aid=7631954]
3 Petrie KJ, Cameron LD, Ellis CJ, Buick D, Weinman, J. “Changing illness perceptions after myocardial infarction: an early intervention randomized controlled trial.” Psychosom Med 2002;64:580–6. Web: https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/external-references?article=0033-3174(2002)64L.580[aid=7115781]
4 Octavia H. Zahrt, BA, and Alia J. Crum, PhD. Perceived Physical Activity and Mortality: Evidence From Three Nationally Representative U.S. Samples. Health Psychology, July 2017. Web: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170720095402.htm
Comments on this article are closed.
I was told by a doctor that my taking Levothyroxine ( 75mcg) daily is bad for my bones. Is this correct information?
This is one of the best articles about health that I have seen. I believe that our thoughts create our reality, but that is many times hard to put into practice. I had fibromyalgia for 28 years before I cured myself and talk about negativity from doctors, myself, articles, etc. Somewhere in my subconscious, I thought that it was my fault. I have also been able to cure my osteoporosis. I can’t stress the importance of this article, enough. Thank you.
Kristy – your comment about “curing” your osteoporosis is interesting. How exactly did you go about this? The Save Our Bones program is excellent (both the diet and exercise regimens); did you do something else in addition? I’m all ears ….. 🙂
I was just diagnosed with advanced osteoporosis. My doctor put me on alendronate… I walk two miles a day, 5 or 6 days a week. I am confused as to take care of this naturally or use drugs. All the information that I just read is very helpful. Worried about fractures.
Hi Vivian, I have osteoporosis as a result of Crohns and related surgery. My inability to efficiently absorb nutrients has dramatically reduced my bone density over a number of years. In all your discussions about the condition being “of the skeletal system that is a result of the aging body’s attempt to correct a biochemical imbalance” which I agree with, how do you place and view osteoporosis in someone like myself who more than likely can attribute it to a chronic disease such as Crohns? Thank you.
I’m a great believer in the Save our Bones system and had an improved dexa scan result. Unfortunately I have osteoarthritis as well. Any tips on how diet and exercise could help?. Thank you for all the emails. They are so informative
Catherine – I also have osteoarthritis and have been told by physicians to “keep moving.” The weekend exercises provided by Vivian also help greatly as they are simple to do and easily remembered. Now if we could just improve my memory ….. Grin.
Dear Vivian, I am a clinical psychologist and hypnotherapist. Your work and research are an absolute joy to me. You enhance the conviction I have about the innate genius of the body and mind to heal if we nurture and trust both. “Thank you” just doesn’t seem enough. I do tell people about your contribution to self-empowerment and enlightened knowledge. Kind regards Erica
Erica – have you published any books or articles? I’m interested in your thoughts and ideas.
If I take Levothyroxin is it bad for my bones?