wholesome health advice

Relax…it’s good for you

We all know that our psychological state influences susceptibility to disease; stress and worry can cause sickness.

Psychoneuroimmunology studies just that-it’s a blend of psychology, neurology and immunology.

The immune system protects against foreign substances, or substances perceived as non-self.  These substances are recognized by immune cells: T-cells, B-cells, and phagocytes.   In a healthy system, these cells identify and destroy non-self-substances, such as cancer cells, bacteria, viruses, poisons, and toxins, etc.

Immune cells are found everywhere in the body; though large numbers are in the spleen, bone marrow, lymph nodes and thymus.  Immune cells are also in organs and tissues that are exposed to the environment: lung, stomach, intestines, skin.   A competent immune system, therefore, must have healthy skin, lungs and gut; plus, proper circulation to organs and tissue.

Nature versus nurture does play a part; good nutrition and exercise can promote health and thus enhance immune functions.  Plus, genes can affect one’s chance for a healthy, effective immune system.   Yet, there is more to the story than our environment and our genealogy.  Research indicates that psychological aspects affect health.  So your approach to life can affect your immune system.

Not too worry if you happen to be a type A personality….you can acquire ‘immuno-restorative’ skills to enhance your health.

The immune response occurs in phases, responding to invaders (organisms identified as non-self). Let’s use bacteria for a simplified immune system example:  Surveillance, Amplification, Attack, Clean-up/Memory.

  1. Surveillance and detention in a healthy system happens with an invasion of bacteria.  The immune system cells ingest all or some of the bacteria during a routine clean-up.  These cells then send other cells (helper T-cells), which recognize the bacteria and get reinforcement.
  2. Amplification happens when the helper T-cells multiply in response to fight off the remaining invading bacteria.  This phase is where B-cells and killer T-cells fight the virus and begin antibody (protein molecules) manufacturing.
  3. Attack of the bacteria.  These antibodies neutralize the bacteria and/or mark it for attack.  Killer T-cells destroy any cells infected with the bacteria.
  4. Clean-up happens, of course, when the invasion is complete and the bacteria are conquered.  Phagocytes are the cells for this phase.  They ingest the cellular debris from the battle against the bacteria and allow the healing to commence.  Following the invasion, memory T-cells and memory B-cells circulate ready to identify and facilitate a response, should this bacteria show up again.  Hopefully, the response is quicker the second time around; as these immune cells now recognize the invader, a non-self-substance.

What affects an immune response?  The efficacy of immune cell response to non-self-invaders is greatly compromised by adrenal gland (endocrine system) hormones.  During a stressful situation (can be physical or mental), both the neural and endocrine systems, which are intertwined with the immune system, are activated.  These systems work together to divert resources, such as hormones, to help with survival.  Though many stressful situations are not necessarily do or die, these systems react the same way: they respond to stressful situations as fight or flight.

This fight or flight response is difficult on the immune system.  During prolonged stress, the immune system can be depressed to allow the other systems to adequately ‘fight’.

The opposite situation occurs during relaxation.  Levels of these hormones decease enhancing the immune system. 

Reaction to stress has more influence on immunity than the actual stressor.  A number of studies correlate positive coping behaviors to a healthy immune system; conversely, poor coping results in depressed immunity.  Therefore, reducing stress levels through relaxation has been shown to decrease negative effects on the immune system.

Many health practices can provide positive coping behaviors, ‘immuno-restorative’ skills.  Enjoyable exercise, yoga, meditation, pranayama (breathing techniques) does just that:  signals the body that everything is ok and there is no need for an inappropriate immune response.   Good nutrition and adequate sleep also enhance immunity.

All these behaviors provide a cornerstone to a healthful immune system by creating healthy skin, lungs and gut; plus proper circulation to organs and tissue. Additionally, combining all these practices provides us with a positive outlook/attitude, calm mind and inner stability.  All are immuno-restorative.

Stress and Health Research:   http://pni.osumc.edu/

Stay tuned …next up is a breathing technique guaranteed to relax.

“Yoga is the method by which the restless mind is calmed and the energy directed into constructive channels”.   BKS Iyengar

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