Psychoneuroimmunology is a multidisciplinary approach studying the interaction between the mind and health and specifically immunity to disease.

Immune System

Your immune system operates much like the safety forces (police fire,EMS) in your city. Two-way communication exists between the safety forces and the community utilizing electronic means (telephone,radio,computer, CCTV) and direct contact with the citizens. Safety forces maintain a sense of vigilance in order to “protect and serve” the public.

(1) Emergency situations are monitored and evaluated.

(2) Trained and equipped safety forces respond to the scene of
any disturbance to neutralize the threat.

(3) If they are successful, problems are resolved and the
situation returns to normal.

(4) If they are unsuccessful, reinforcements are summoned to
meet the challenge.

(5) If these efforts fail, chaos and disorder prevails.

In the case of immunity, the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves) maintains two-way communication with the organs and cells of the immune system in response to physical and psychological stress. Like safety forces, your immune system remains in a state of protective vigilance.

(1) Your body monitors your health by sensing the presence of
foreign, bacteria, viruses, pathogens, or toxins using a
system of chemical messengers ( cytokines,hormones,
proteins, molecules, and neurotransmitters).

(2) If a threat is identified, proinflammatory cytokines
signal specialized white blood cells in the bloodstream
and lymphatic system, (leukocytes and natural killer (NK)
cells to destroy germs and repair tissue at the site of the
inflammation.

(3) If this initial immune response is successful, acute
physical symptoms resolve and the inflammation subsides as
normal balance or homeostasis is restored.

(4) If the threat is not resolved, chronic inflammation may
emerge, cellular DNA may become damaged, cellular repair is
thwarted and chronic illness such as heart disease, cancer,
and immune disorders emerge, and can spread or
metastasize.

(5) If the disease process continues unabated, death of the
host may result.

Inflammatory Response

During an acute or short term, inflammatory response, cellular repair is temporarily suspended by stress related hormones (cortisol) while the immune system is focused on the destruction of pathogens. If the stress and associated negative thinking continue, the inflammatory response worsens, which can result in a variety of illnesses such as fatigue, GI distress, headaches, back pain, anxiety, depression and frequent colds. Chronic stress can result in chronic illness associated with mutated DNA including immune disorders, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and dementia.

Restoring Health and Boosting Immunity

Research from the field of psychoneuroimmunology over the past twenty years has provided a firm empirical basis for the positive and negative effects of thinking and lifestyle on health and immunity.

In order to restore health and strengthen immune function, the inflammatory, “fight or flight” stress response has to be cooled down. Research based strategies used to stimulate immunity include the daily practice of, mindfulness, meditation, restructuring negative cognition, and following a healthy lifestyle including diet, hydration, exercise, supplementation, and social support.

Further Reading

The Healing Mind by Paul Martin, Ph.D. (1997) ST. Martin’s Press

Psychoneuroimmunology by Robert Ader, Ph.D.(2007) Elsevier Academic Press

The Psychoneuroimmunology of Chronic Disease: Exploring the Links Between Inflammation, Stress, and Illness Edited by Kathleen A. Kendall-Tackett, Ph.D.(2009) American Psychological Association

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Siddall is a Psychologist with over 30 years of experience in clinical and forensic psychology as a clinician, educator and consultant to business, industry, and the criminal justice system. He is Vietnam Era veteran who served with law enforcement. As a free lance writer he specializes in articles on personal security, psychology, crime and short educational essays.