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Immunity 101

by Jordan Ciambrone | July 14, 2020, 09:49 AM

The Mind-Body connection is complex, dynamic, and filled with individual variability. Like the “butterfly effect,” a small change in one part of a body system can have large effects elsewhere in the body. Bringing balance, or homeostasis, to your body’s systems helps keep you healthy - mind, body and spirit.

While all the body’s systems work together to support homeostasis, we will highlight the relationship between the mind, immune and nervous systems. Spoiler alert! There is actually an entire field of study called Psychoneuroimmunology that illuminates how the brain and body work together to influence the immune system.

In the throes of a global pandemic, “boosting the immune system” has become a popular search term. Before dumping hard earned cash into the next antioxidant berry concoction, let’s revisit the basics.

ImmuneSystem_500x500The immune system defends homeostasis by warding off noxious invaders like parasites, viruses, and unfriendly bacteria. If initial lines of immune defense prove unsuccessful, immune cells intervene to clean up infection and reduce inflammation. 

These cells also communicate with the brain, part of the central nervous system. Signals from the immune system to the brain “potently alter neural activity, and thereby alter everything that flows from neural activity, mainly behavior, thought and mood.” -Steven Maier, University of Colorado.

As with most human systems, this relationship is bidirectional, whereby the immune system sends signals to the brain, and the brain sends signals out to the body. It's not just the noxious invaders, but also behavioral and psychological events that influence the immune system.

A quick overview of the nervous system illustrates how the butterfly effect takes flight. In brief, the nervous system regulates homeostasis through electrical and chemical signaling. This miraculously intricate system shapes the following, among a myriad of other precise electro-chemical processes: 

  • Personal stress response
  • Sensation, perception and interpretation of the world around and within
  • Motivation and attitude
  • Attention,cognition and memory
  • Innate reflexes
  • How movement is initiated and sustained

The brain and spinal cord, or central nervous system, interact with the peripheral nervous system to achieve dynamic balance, while providing access to higher order thinking, planning, decision making and behavioral execution. 

Supporting strong immune functioning during times of heightened stress requires healthy lifestyle choices and an adaptable, resilient nervous system. Up next, we’ll address controllable lifestyle choices that have a profound impact on the immune system: stress management, exercise, nutrition, and sleep. 


Until then, 

Jordan and Bethany

 


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