You may be shocked to learn a connection between mental wellness (health) and your immune system. The scientific term for this connection is psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), the study of the interactions between the brain and the immune system. The central nervous system (CNS) and the immune system are known to communicate via chemical messengers. The nervous system uses hormones and neurotransmitters to communicate with the immune system, while the immune system uses cytokines to communicate with the nervous system. The connection between mental wellness and immune health is easily seen when we look at mental health issues, stress, and sleep.
Stress and its impact on the immune system
When we take a deeper look at the impact that stress has on the immune system, we learn that stress can have a positive effect on the immune system in the short term. Short-term stress primarily enhances innate immunity and secondarily enhances adaptive immunity. Innate immunity is the first line of defense we are born with and reacts immediately to pathogen exposure. Innate immunity consists primarily of phagocytes, as natural killer cells, macrophages, neutrophils, etc., and the complement system, a biochemical cascade that is triggered in response to pathogens to eliminate them and recruit more immune cells. Adaptive immunity is often referred to as acquired immunity due to the body needing to be exposed to it previously and consists primarily of B and T lymphocytes. Innate immunity reacts quickly, while adaptive immunity does not. Even though it does not respond quickly, acquired immunity is long-lasting, highly specific, and sustained for long periods.[i] Long-term stress suppresses or dysregulates both innate and adaptive immune responses.[ii] It also causes a significant decrease in the numbers and percentages of critical immune cells (lymphocytes, B-cells, NK cells, and monocytes).[iii] In summary, stress decreases immune cell numbers and function and increases active immunosuppressive mechanisms.[iv]
Sleep has many links to weakened immune function and health. There is an association between short sleep duration and infection risk while exerting a strong regulatory influence on immune functions.[v] Just one night of total sleep deprivation decreases neutrophil function.[vi] At the same time, prolonged sleep curtailment and the accompanying stress response produce immunodeficiency.[vii] Lack of sleep is directly linked to decreased immune cells such as leukocytes, monocytes, lymphocytes, lymphocyte subsets (i.e., B cells, CD4 and CD8 T cells, N.K. cells), and overall immune cell activity.[viii]
Address the Stress
There are numerous botanical extracts available that address stress from different angles. Here are a few of my personal favorites:
- Ashwagandha (KSM-66®/Sensoril®): Research with ashwagandha shows it not only decreased daily stress but had a significant impact on decreasing cortisol, also known as the stress hormone.[ix]
- Caralluma (CALMalumaTM): Two studies show that CALMalumaTM reduces stress and frustration. It also increases relaxation and supports the balancing of cortisol (the stress hormone).
- Saffron (Affron®): Affron® has been well studied for stress and has proven benefits for alleviating occasional stress, frustration, and tension in adults,[x] helped children (12-16 years of age) maintain a positive mood and alleviate occasional stress, frustration, and tension,[xi] and improve psychological symptoms (low mood and occasional stress) in perimenopausal women[xii]
Addressing Immune Health
Addressing stress is essential, and yet it isn’t necessarily going to get your immune system working the way you wish tomorrow. There are several immune ingredients available to work with your immune system. One of my favorite approaches is by supporting the gut. The microbiome is a complex area, and yet, one ingredient, ImmunoLin®, is a great place to start. Why? ImmunoLin® is a perfect way to impact the Gut-Immune connection.
ImmunoLin® is the clinically proven immunoglobulin answer for long-term gut and immune health support. ImmunoLin® is the first in class concerning immunoglobulin therapy. Immunoglobulins are also known as antibodies and are made by the immune system in response to a foreign substance called an antigen. Common antigens include bacteria, viruses, funguses, animal dander, abnormal cells, and toxins. The job of an Immunoglobulin is to attach to antigens so the immune system can destroy them. When an immunoglobulin binds to the antigen, it prevents the antigen from finding its target and renders it inactive.
ImmunoLin® has been thoroughly studied and contains the highest percentage of IgG on the market. IgG antibodies are found in all body fluids and are the most common antibody (75% to 80%) of all the antibodies in the body. IgG antibodies are critical in fighting bacterial and viral infections. IgG antibodies protect you against infection by “remembering” which germs you were previously exposed. If those germs come back, your immune system knows to attack them. In addition, IgG antibodies are the only antibody that can cross the placenta in a pregnant woman to help protect her baby.
Other Immune Ingredient Considerations
- Vitamin D
Tying It All Together
Often, we look at our immune health as a one-way Strstreet and don’t look at the possible underlying factors that can weaken our immune system. Stress is an excellent example of this. If you think about it, how many times have you said, “I am just run down”? Being run down usually means you are running in all directions, and life is a bit crazy (Stressed out). If we take time to address the stress and incorporate ingredients such as ImmunoLin® into our daily supplement programs, we have taken significant steps to avoid immune challenges.
[i] Healio website, https://www.healio.com/hematology-oncology/learn-immuno-oncology/the-immune-system/the-innate-vs-adaptive-immune-response, The Immune System, Accessed April 22, 2021
[ii] Dhabhar FS. Effects of stress on immune function: the good, the bad, and the beautiful. Immunol Res. 2014;58(2-3):193‐210. doi:10.1007/s12026-014-8517-0
[iii] Dhabhar FS, Miller AH, McEwen BS, Spencer RL. Effects of stress on immune cell distribution. Dynamics and hormonal mechanisms. J Immunol. 1995;154(10):5511‐5527
[iv] Dhabhar FS, Enhancing versus Suppressive Effects of Stress on Immune Function: Implications for Immunoprotection and Immunopathology, Neuroimmunomodulation 2009;16:300–317
[v] Besedovsky L, Lange T, Haack M, The Sleep-Immune Crosstalk in Health and Disease, Physiological Reviews 99: 1325–1380, 2019
[vi] Morey JN, Boggero IA, Scott AB, Segerstrom SC. Current Directions in Stress and Human Immune Function. Curr Opin Psychol. 2015;5:13‐17. doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2015.03.007
[vii] Besedovsky L, Lange T, Born J. Sleep and immune function. Pflugers Arch. 2012;463(1):121‐137. doi:10.1007/s00424-011-1044-0
[viii] Besedovsky L, Lange T, Haack M, The Sleep-Immune Crosstalk in Health and Disease, Physiological Reviews 99: 1325–1380, 2019
[ix] Remenapp A, Coyle K, Orange T, et al. Efficacy of Withania somnifera supplementation on adult’s cognition and mood. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2021 Nov 25;13(2):100510
[x] Kell G, Rao A, Beccaria G, Clayton P, Inarejos-García AM, Prodanov M. affron® a novel saffron extract (Crocus sativus L.) improves mood in healthy adults over four weeks in a double-blind, parallel, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Complement Ther Med. 2017 Aug;33:58-64. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2017.06.001. Epub 2017 Jun 13. PMID: 28735826.
[xi] Lopresti AL, Drummond PD, Inarejos-García AM, Prodanov M. affron®, a standardized extract from saffron (Crocus sativus L.) for the treatment of youth anxiety and depressive symptoms: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Affect Disord. 2018 May;232:349-357. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2018.02.070. Epub 2018 Feb 26. PMID: 29510352.
[xii] Lopresti AL, Smith SJ. The Effects of a Saffron Extract (affron®) on Menopausal Symptoms in Women during Perimenopause: A Randomised, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. J Menopausal Med. 2021;27:e8. https://doi.org/10.6118/jmm.21002