- Connections between your nervous system and immune system allow for crosstalk between them. The science that studies this is psychoneuroimmunology
- Pessimism promotes ill health and can shave years off your life; the tendency to always expect the worst has been linked to a 25 percent higher risk of dying before the age of 65
- Sociable, outgoing people tend to have stronger immune function, and happiness, optimism, life satisfaction, and other positive psychological attributes are associated with a lower risk of heart disease
“One chemical of note involved in the HPA axis’ work is corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). The hypothalamus releases CRH in response to stress, illness, exercise, cortisol in the blood and sleep/wake cycles. It peaks soon after waking and slowly declines throughout the rest of the day. In a stressed individual, however, cortisol levels are elevated for prolonged periods of time.
During stress, the body believes it is in imminent danger, so cortisol triggers a number of metabolic changes to ensure that enough energy is available in case a fight or flight is necessary. One of these energy-saving tactics is to suppress the metabolically expensive immune system, saving vital glucose for the approaching life-threatening event …
In this way, ongoing stress can reduce the capabilities of the immune system as the body saves its energy for a physical exertion that never comes.”
On the other hand, oxytocin — a hormone that has long been associated with physical and emotional closeness — helps suppress the HPA axis, thereby promoting healthy immune function and improved wound healing.
Normal immune surveillance
The brain was once considered to lack normal immune surveillance. This was assumed to be the case because normal immune responses like swelling do not regularly occur inside the brain. If they did, people would be dying from it on a regular basis. However, considering the brain “immune privileged” turned out to be overly simplistic.
As noted above, research shows that your brain does in fact interact with your peripheral immune system, albeit in unique ways. In 2015, researchers discovered lymphatic vessels in the brain,13 again showing the connection between the brain and the immune system.
Neuropeptides may also be part of the puzzle, as they’ve been implicated in a number of functions involving emotions. For example, they play a role in social-, reproductive-, and reward-seeking behaviors. More than 100 neuropeptides are also used by your central nervous system; they influence both gene expression and the building of new brain synapses.
Psychology and your health
|Sudden death||Research shows that during the first week after the death of a spouse, mortality skyrockets to double the normal rate|
|Heart and cardiovascular disease, stroke, and heart attacks||Letting your anger out explosively may be harmful because it triggers surges in stress hormones and injures blood vessel linings.
One study11 found that people over the age of 50 who express their anger by lashing out are more likely to have calcium deposits in their coronary arteries — an indication that you’re at a high risk for a heart attack — than their mellower peers.
A systematic review12 involving data on 5,000 heart attacks, 800 strokes and 300 cases of arrhythmia also revealed that anger increases your risk of heart attack, arrhythmia and stroke — and the risk increases with frequent anger episodes.
|Gastrointestinal (GI) problems||Sustained or chronic stress has been linked to a number of GI problems, including inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that your brain, your immune system and your gut microbes are intricately linked.
Autism, for instance, is associated with gastrointestinal problems and potentially an over-reaction in the immune system
|Cancer||Your outlook has an effect on your ability to recover from cancer. The quality and quantity of psychological support also makes a difference in survival rates|
|HIV||Heightened stress and dwindling support from family and friends has been shown to accelerate the progression of HIV infection|
|Allergies||Skin complaints like psoriasis and eczema have psychological underpinnings. Ditto for asthma. All tend to worsen when stress is elevated|
|Wound healing||The psychological state of the patient has been shown to affect their rate of healing. As noted in the featured article:
“For instance, increased levels of fear or distress before surgery have been associated with worse outcomes, including longer stays in the hospital, more postoperative complications and higher rates of re-hospitalization.
In one study on patients with chronic lower leg wounds, those who reported the highest levels of depression and anxiety showed significantly delayed healing.”
|Inflammation||Stress-relieving strategies such as meditation has been shown to promote antiviral gene activity and reduce inflammatory gene expression|
Interestingly, while both are positive emotional states associated with happiness, the gene expressions they produced were not identical.
Those whose sense of happiness was rooted in the eudaimonic camp had favorable gene-expression profiles, while hedonic well-being produced gene profiles similar to those seen in people experiencing stress due to adversity.
Professor Cole’s theory8 as to these differences is that when you’re driven by materialistic values, your happiness depends on circumstances that may or may not be within your control. If you run into adversity, it can cause a great deal of stress because it impedes your perceived ability to be happy.
On the other hand, those driven by a sense of “purpose” are largely buffered against the uncertainty that comes with adversity, and their happiness is not dependent on having or experiencing anything in particular that can at any moment be taken away.
Aging and health problems
- Aging is linked to multiple health problems.
- 80% of older adults have at least one chronic health problem
- 50% have at least two
- Health problems may require medicines that interact with each other in harmful ways.
- Medicines can also interact with food, supplements, natural products, alcohol, or even with another health condition. These interactions can cause problems.
- Some of these medicines and interactions can affect how your brain functions.
- Free Consumer Information from the American Geriatric Society: http://geriatricscareonline.org/ProductAbstract/american-geriatrics-society-updated-beers-criteria-for-potentially-inappropriate-medication-use-in-older-adults/CL001
- Note: You must register to get the information.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) webpage on older adults and medicinal side effects: http://cdc.gov/MedicationSafety/Adult_AdverseDrugEvents.html
- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guide for older adults: http://fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/ucm163959.htm
- Institute of Medicine’s Consumer Brain Health Guide: https://iom.nationalacademies.org/~/media/Files/Report%20Files/2015/Cognitive_aging/Action%20Guide%20for%20Individuals%20and%20Families_V3.pdf
- National Institutes of Health fact sheet on taking medicines safely:
- English: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/medicines