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How Mental Health Can Influence Immunity
22.March.2021

How Mental Health Can Influence Immunity

The mind-body connection is strong. “Mind over matter” may seem like an overused cliché, but there is some truth to how powerful the mind and the state of one’s mental health is. After all, the human body is a symbiotic machine. Each and every process relies on the other to be able to do its job properly.

When it comes to mental health and the immune system, that connection is just as strong. Your emotions and the health of your body converge, and when you suffer from a mental health disorder, it can affect many things such as energy levels, the ability to make healthy choices, and the ability to fight off chronic disease.

 

How does the mind affect the immune system?

Your immune health plays a crucial role in your overall health. It’s the body’s defense system, and without it, you would be open to attack from bacteria and viruses. Mental health and the immune system connect in various ways. Both the health of the mind and the health of the immune system are based on how they react to their external environmental, which helps the body and mind decide how to navigate challenges and adjust to the current environment.

There is also a connection between how the immune system functions and how the mind works, which begins on a cellular level. One particular study found that a cytokine known as IL-17 plays a vital role in brain function. Although researchers are not quite sure how the mechanism in question could change brain function or health, they hypothesize that it could be linked to anxiety, depression, and autism. Whether too much of the cytokine or too little is what could be causing the effect is not yet known, but the connection is there.

 

Image by A.R.T.Paola on Unsplash: Being optimistic can boost your immune system. 

 

How does optimism affect the immune system?

Being optimistic can do a lot for a person’s mental state. After all, thinking good thoughts on a consistent basis and looking at the brighter side of things can lead to a happier person overall. There is some evidence to support that optimism doesn’t just help people get through the trials and tribulations of their everyday life. It can actually affect how healthy the body is, including the immune system.

Studies have shown that those who are more optimistic about their health ailments and healing journey, so to speak, often have better outcomes than those who aren’t thinking positively about their health situation. One study found that optimism has been shown to increase the efficacy of the initial immune response. The same study came to the conclusion that as people became more or less positive, the strength of their immune system followed suit by becoming weaker while they were less optimistic and stronger when they were more optimistic.  

 

Can depression make your immune system weak?

Depression can take a heavy toll on overall health. Physically speaking, having depression can make a person more likely to experience gastrointestinal issues, sleep disorders, unhealthy weight loss or gain, and chronic pain in all areas of the body. Depression also affects how well the immune system does its job. Since depression can lead to an impaired sleep routine, and sleep is needed for the immune system to produce substances designed to help fight infection, having depression-induced lack of sleep can cause the production of those much-needed immune substances to falter.

Depression and the immune system may also be a sort of chicken-and-egg situation. Many studies show that those with depression have a weakened immune system, but the connection isn’t clear as to whether depression makes the immune system weak, or a weak immune system may be a factor in what causes depression.

 

Can stress and anxiety affect your immune system?

Being subject to chronic stress is bad for one’s health in many ways. Firstly, it can have a seriously negative effect on how immune function works. This is because of the stress hormone cortisol. When it is released during times of stress, it can actually help the body deal with the situation. But when that release of stress is constant, it actually suppresses the immune function by reducing the number of lymphocytes (white blood cells/immune cells) produced to fight off infection. Being chronically stressed can also lead to a person making unhealthy choices that hinder the overall function of the immune system.

Anxiety and immunity also work hand-in-hand. When a person has chronic anxiety, their body releases a variety of different hormones on a semi-constant basis. This leads the body to believe that it’s in the fight-or-flight response permanently, and when that happens, the immune system becomes weakened.

 

Image by Zachary Kadolph on Unplash: Being stressed can lead to worse lifestyle choices, which can weaken the immune system.

 

For those dealing with mental health issues, it may be difficult to hear that this can also weaken the immune system. The best thing a person can do to ensure that their mental health and immune system are on their way to better functioning is by continuing with ongoing treatments or medications and giving the body what it needs otherwise. This could include good food, supplementation, and exercise.

A weakened immune system leaves the body unprotected against infections and chronic illness, so doing everything you can to ensure that it is functioning properly is of the utmost importance to overall health.

 

Featured image by Hybrid on Unsplash

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