I Think, Therefore I Am Healthy: Keeping You Well via Psychoneuroimmunology
Of all the body systems, the immune system is most recognized as the body system that tirelessly works keep you WELL and HEALTHY. This incredibly complex system has a myriad of players and influences. Yet, sometimes things can be simplified to just a main point or two. In this current climate, keeping a robust immune system is of paramount importance.
Today's thought is:
Psychoneuroimmunology is a key facet of wellness that augments and supports having a healthy diet. It can be crucial in maintaining Immune Resilience.
Psychoneuroimmunology is a long word that refers to the integration and interaction of your immune system, your brain, and your mental and emotional state and how all of that impacts your wellness. It is a beautiful example of how intimately connected your body is: Every cell impacts every other cell. Even the thoughts you think impact how healthy your cells, and so your body, can be.
Psychoneuroimmunology and immune resilience are two peas in an pod. I recently read an article entitled "Resilience and immunity. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity" (2018) that defines immune resilience as your ability to "adapt to adverse conditions and recover from them." The ability of your immune system to stay functioning and strong is incredibly impacted by your personal beliefs, your outlook on life and health, and your social support system. As much as I love nutrition, sometimes it is necessary to look farther into what is really pulling your immune system down. Eating a great diet cannot save your immune system all by itself. In fact, some believe that your beliefs regarding wellness and health are just as important as the food you eat.
Have you ever met someone who lived each day in joy and strength and seemed to rarely get ill or, when ill, recovered better than many? Psychoneuroimmunology may have been at play here as well as epigenetics. You see, the thoughts you think and the emotions you feel all send biochemical instructions to your body. Being depressed, living in pessimism, etc. can actually impact your cellular DNA and turn genes on and off. Oftentimes, living in the dumps makes your cells more prone to turn ON disease-causing genes!
So here are a few key points for you to masticate on today that are taken from that resilience and immunity article:
1. "Chronic psychological stressors [predict] an increased risk of developing a common cold for those exposed to a cold virus."
2. "The association between stress and disease occurs because chronic stress interferes with the body’s ability to turn-off the immune system’s production of inflammatory chemicals" so you stay inflamed and get sick.
3. Stress promotes coping such as "smoking, drinking alcohol, illicit drug use, sleep loss," anger, and anxiety, which make you more susceptible to becoming sick.
4. These behaviors combined with a downer psychological state put you at risk of getting sick, developing depression, and ending up with all manner of infectious, inflammatory, and psychological diseases.
5. When you're depressed, your blood brain barrier breaks down and all manner of invaders are allowed to bombard your precious brain, including attackers called neurotoxins and excitotoxins. This continues the evil cycle of barrier breakdown and attack, while also causing harm to the rest of your body.
6. Inflammatory chemicals produced during stress and inflammation inhibit the synthesis of your neurotransmitters, including serotonin which you need to feel "okay" and GABA which you need to not panic and feel anxious.
Does any of this impact you in our current environment? It sure resonates with me!
So, other than living life as a Debbie Downer, what contributes to all of the points above?
According to the authors of this paper, a crucial focus is what they call The Social Defeat Stress Model. Learning to view life differently, maintaining your sense of humor, laughing at yourself, refusing to self pity: all of these are wonderful actions to take in combating the temptation to sink into bad psychoneuroimmunological areas and put yourself at greater risk of disease. However, this Social Defeat Stress Model seems to be likewise crucial to maintaining wellness and is an established model of chronic stress. The authors actually comment that this model is intentionally used in scientific studies to depress and inhibit animals under study. Those living in the Social Defeat Stress Model can eventually be affected by the Learned Helplessness Model of Depression which is highly inflammatory to brain and body.
All of this jargon and these models to say something beautifully simple: Your social support system and the emotional and physical contact you derive from it is key to your psychoneuroimmunological health.
The study authors, Dantzer el al., reveal that "Work with primates has shown that those that spend more of their time engaged in affiliative behaviors (e.g., touch, close proximity) showed less suppression" of the immune system during chronic stress! Additionally, "humans who reported being regularly hugged by others showed" immune resilience and "in a viral-challenge study, those [not getting] hugged were at greater risk of infection in response to exposure to a common cold virus, but those who received many days of hugging were protected from the role of conflict in increasing risk." Also, on a biochemical level, hugs end up triggering oxytocin receptors on your back, which is not only a bonding chemical but also highly anti-inflammatory as well. And you thought hugs were just for fun!
Other meaningful forms of touch that you can use to boost your immune system include: shaking hands, massage, and cuddling. So while you continue to do an excellent job staying well through hydration and diet, don't forget how holistic a being you are and be sure to take care of your psychoneuroimmunology in your efforts to remain well in this season.
Have questions or comments about this topic or other ways to boost your immune system? Leave comments below or check out Rapha Nutrition's services and packages! This is about you: Your quality of life and your ability to be healthy!
Dantzer, R., Sheldon, C., Russo, S.J., Dinan, T. (2018). Resilience and immunity. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. 74: 28-42. doi https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2018.08.010.