Evidence For Mind Body Communication
Here are eleven points (1) summarizing the conclusion of studies by Ader (2) et. al., demonstrating that communication between the CNS and the immune system exist.
1. Nerve endings are embedded in the tissues of the immune system.
Bone marrow, thymus gland, spleen, and lymph nodes are laced with nerve endings by the CNS. Lymphocytes stem from bone marrow, and B cells develop immunocompetence in the bone marrow. Infantile lymphocytes wander from bone marrow to the thymus gland where the develop immunocompetence influenced by thymic hormones. Once this process is finished, lymphocytes root the lymph nodes, spleen, and other lymphoid tissues where antigen challenge occurs. It is clear that the CNS has direct contact with the immune tissues and access to immune cells.
2. Changes in the CNS (i.e. brain, spinal cord) alter immune responses.
At the same time an immune response is triggered, CNS activity is also altered. Experiments with animals dating back to the 60's show that impairment to the hypothalamus suppress or enhance immune response. It was also found, that when an immune response was triggered, nerve cells in the hypothalamus became more active, and this brain cell activity peaked at the same time antibody levels were at their highest. This suggests that the brain monitors immunologic activity meticulously.
3. Changes in hormone and neurotransmitter levels alter immune activity and vice versa.
Stress hormones typically suppress immune response; other hormones, such as GH (growth hormone), also affect immunity. Immunizations in animals also altered their hormone levels.
4. Lymphocytes can produce both hormones and neurotransmitters.
Lymphocytes can and will act as mini-pituitary glands. Examples have shown that in a virus infected animal, lymphocytes produce minute amounts of many of the same chemicals produced by the pituitary gland.
5. Activated lymphocytes can produce substances recognized by the CNS.
Immune cells communicate with each other by using chemical messengers called interleukins and interferons. These same chemicals trigger receptors on cells in the brain, confirming that the immune and nervous system speak the same language.
6. Psychosocial factors alter the susceptibility to or progression of autoimmune and infectious diseases.
I will have follow up posts dealing with this subject separately. The main themes will be psychoneuroimmunological conditioning of the immune system and the effects of live events and relationships on human health.
7. Stress can influence immunologic reactivity.
Chronic or intense stress generally makes immune cells less responsive to a challenge.
8. Relaxation techniques, hypnosis, and biologically targeted imagery can influence immunologic reactivity.
Using hypnosis or imagery can both produce and reduce allergic reactions. Relaxation techniques have been demonstrated to down-regulate some allergic responses.
9. Classical conditioning can modulate immunologic reactivity.
Ader's animal experiments demonstrated that the immune system can learn to react a particular way as a conditioned response.
10. Psychoactive drugs and drug abuse influence immune function.
Drugs that affect the CNS such as alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and nicotine suppress the immune response. Lithium, a psychotropic medication also modifies immunity.
11. Stress can interfere with the effectiveness of an immunization program.
The effect of stress could have ramification for public health by way of affecting antibody formation after immunization. A study of stressed medical students showed that hepatitis B vaccinations required one or two booster shots before antibodies were formed. Unstressed students formed antibodies after the first immunization.
All this information suggests that we have much more control over our immune system then we would like to believe. In the following posts we will take a look at what it is exactly we can do do bolster or enhance our immune system and how music therapy and laughter might just be what the doctor should order.
1. Freeman L. Complementary & Alternative Medicine: A Research Based Approach. Mosby. St. Louis, Missouri (2004):20-21
2. Ader R. Commentary: On the Teaching of Psychoneuroimmunology. Proceedings of the 1996 Meeting of the Psychoneuroimmunology Research Society, Center for Psychoneuroimmunology Research and Department of Psychiatry. Rochester. NY. (1996) University of Rochester, School of Medicine and Dentistry