Psychoneuroimmunology: Where do the body and mind connect in health?

By train­ing, I’m a neur­os­cience geek :) I love the brain, and the secrets it holds.

Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) or the study of psy­cho­logy, the nervous sys­tem, and our immune sys­tem is a fas­cin­at­ing field of sci­ence that gained a title in the 1970s to define and explore how our body and mind con­nect with one anoth­er. In fact, PNI was once seen as pseudos­cience or not “real” sci­ence. Ironic how things change.

Stress and the Brain

I became really fas­cin­ated with PNI con­cepts in my under­gradu­ate class hor­mones and beha­viour — basic­ally how our body is run with chem­ic­al sig­nals, and we in turn, start to change what we do in response to those sig­nals.

A great example of this is the hor­mone oxy­to­cin, or the “love” hor­mone. Oxytocin is the hor­mone respons­ible for bond­ing and what is released when moth­ers nurse their babies. It is even released dur­ing more intim­ate moments, like sexu­al inter­course, to form love con­nec­tions. In oth­er words, without the sup­port of this hor­mone, our abil­ity to form rela­tion­ships and lov­ing con­nec­tions would not be pos­sible in the same way.

So why am I telling you all of this?

I’ve always been a big pro­ponent that we can influ­ence our bod­ies and through our minds, not just in the con­cepts of what we think becomes our real­ity, but that we can actu­ally change chem­ic­al and elec­tric­al sig­nals as a res­ult of those thoughts.

The inter­est­ing part about this is that sci­entif­ic research has been doing this for years, and we have some idea of where thought influ­ences bio­logy and vice versa, but no real idea HOW exactly this occurs. We can see changes in the num­bers of immune cells after stress, and we can see changes in hor­mone levels after severe emo­tion­al trauma but we don’t know WHERE this occurs in the brain each time (we have some good ideas how­ever but there is some incon­sist­ency). We know that there is com­mu­nic­a­tion between many vital struc­tures with­in the brain to facil­it­ate these actions, but WHO is run­ning the show?

The cycle of thought — action — body change = psy­cho­neuroim­mun­o­logy.

So with all of that, isn’t that a motiv­a­tion alone to think about how you can change your pat­terns to change your life?

A recent art­icle pub­lished in the Journal of Psychological Science dis­cussed how loneli­ness induces inflam­ma­tion dur­ing stress, as shown by increases by molecules nor­mally involved in immune sys­tem sup­port being more activ­ated in this situ­ation. The only way our immune sys­tem ‘knows’ we are lonely and that it is stress­ful to be alone is our per­cep­tion, which is dic­tated to our hypo­thal­am­us in the brain stem. The hypo­thal­am­us, respons­ible for know­ing when we are hungry or thirsty, if we are hot or cold, or wheth­er we should pro­cre­ate for our con­tin­ued exist­ence at its basic func­tions, responds to basic needs to keep us alive. In turn, our body responds and induces an immune sys­tem response to “defend” us from this “attack”.

If we can ima­gine then that we are a sys­tem that loops upon itself, feed­ing back into itself, isn’t it vital not only to give the body what it needs, but to find a life for ourselves emo­tion­ally and men­tally that sup­ports us?

Food for thought…for the body :)

Stay tuned for my thoughts on how to sup­port both the body and the mind…

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