The intimate connection between our body and mental well-being reveals a profound link between our immune system and mental health. When our body combats viruses or infections, it often leaves us feeling low, contributing to depression and fatigue. Surprisingly, immune responses play a role in mental illnesses like anxiety and even severe conditions such as schizophrenia.
Understanding this intricate relationship between immunity and mental health introduces avenues for personalised treatments, emphasising the importance of immune system regulation for mental wellness. Let’s dive into the link between your mental health and your your your immune system and the steps you can take to boost both.
The relationship between the immune system and mental health
People often feel moody when their health isn’t in tip-top condition. This is because your energy is exerted toward fighting off a virus or an injection, which leads to depression, low energy, and general malaise. Some infections can trigger severe mental illnesses, for example, schizophrenia.
Research suggests that those with allergies are more likely to get anxiety, which weakens the immune system and leads to more allergies. While your immune system may not directly cause anxiety, it can contribute to behavior that can lead to anxiety.
In a study, mice constantly exposed to stress developed an immune response by releasing inflammatory proteins, which caused impaired reaction and atrophy in the brain. This results in depressed behavior.
Evidence suggests that stress and depression impact one’s well-being by impairing the functioning of the immune system. It results in a low chronic inflammation status that favors or increases the chances of metabolic diseases, infections, and, in worse cases, cancer. Common symptoms of depression include poor diet, social isolation, and changes in sleep patterns, which can affect your immune system when you neglect healthy eating or exercising.
Those who suffer from depression are prone to illnesses such as:
- Heart disease. Poor diet, poor sleep habits, and not exercising can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
- Infections. Individuals hospitalised with severe infections had 62% higher chances of having a mood disorder
- Autoimmune disease. Increased hospital visits due to autoimmune disease have a 45% greater risk of developing mood disorders. IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), multiple sclerosis, and more cause abnormally high or low-level immune system activity.
Stress reduces the number of lymphocytes (natural killer cells) that fight viruses. It also produces an inflammatory response that can be beneficial for fighting germs. Still, if it is widespread and persistent, it can lead to chronic diseases or plaque build-up on arterial walls. Chronic stress produces higher cortisol levels, hampers anti-inflammatory response, and causes continual infections.
The immune system’s role in causing psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, PTSD, suicidal behavior, and depression has an entire field – immunopsychiatry – dedicated to it.
How to boost your immune system
Let’s look at a few things you can do to boost your immune system.
Choosing the right food
For a healthy immune system, you need regular and good nourishment. Let us look at a few foods that boost your immune system.
- Citrus fruits. Citrus fruits, such as grapefruits, limes, tangerines, and more, are high in vitamin C, and vitamin C increases white blood cell production, which is vital in fighting infections
- Red bell peppers. They contain vitamin C and beta carotene. Your body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, which keeps your skin and eyes healthy.
- Yoghurt. Opt for plain yogurt instead of flavored ones (as they’re loaded with sugar!) because they are rich in vitamin D, which regulates your body’s immune system.
- Almonds. Nuts, such as almonds, are rich in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant.
- Sunflower seeds. These include magnesium, Vitamin B6 and E, phosphorus, and selenium. Selenium is good in combating viral infections like swine flu.
- Green tea. It has high levels of EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) with antiviral properties.
- Poultry. Chicken and turkey contain nearly one-third of your recommended dose of B6, which is essential in forming red blood cells. Broth or stocks made from chicken bones contain chondroitin and gelatin, which are helpful for immunity and gut healing.
Herbs and supplements
You can opt for supplements such as beta glucan 1 3d to boost your immune system. Beta-glucans are soluble fibers present in certain plant, bacterial, and fungal cell walls and offer incredible benefits. They can prevent cholesterol absorption, lowering the risk of heart disease. They also increase the concentration of certain chemicals that prevent infections, boosting the immune system.
The FDA has allowed products containing 750 mg of beta-glucans to state they may reduce the risk of heart disease. There have been no reported side effects of Beta-glucans when taken by mouth, but it can cause skin rash in some people when applied to the skin.
Make sure you do not consume them with medication that lowers blood pressure, such as antihypertensive drugs, or your blood pressure may get too low. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid such supplements as they’re isn’t enough information about their safety in these states. Herbs that can help boost immunity naturally include:
- Turmeric. Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties
- Echinacea. Which you can take as a supplement is suitable for common colds and infections.
- Ginger. Gingerol and shogaol found in ginger have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and analgesic (pain-relieving) properties.
Regular physical activities, such as exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, building a solid social network, getting enough sleep, and quitting smoking and alcohol, are other ways to boost your Immunity.
Bonus: tips for a healthier mind
Humans evolved as social animals, and consequently, they need connections for a fulfilling life. You must work toward establishing strong social connections and meeting people because they can energize you, make you feel loved, and boost your self-esteem.
Share your worries with your loved ones, and listen to others in a supportive way to broaden your perspective. Figure out things that work for you and make you relax, be it reading, listening to music, doing something creative, or interacting with nature. Relaxation techniques you can follow include:
- Guided imagery. You imagine soothing experiences, scenes, or places to help you relax.
- Breath focus. While taking long, slow, and deep breaths, you disengage your mind from distracting or harmful sensations and thoughts.
- Body scans. While deep breathing, you focus on a particular body part or group of muscles and mentally release the physical tension you feel there.
- Mindful meditation. While meditating, you focus on the present without worrying about past or future concerns.
Never hesitate to contact a psychologist or psychiatrist to seek additional help.
The interaction between our immune system and mental health is a profound revelation, paving the way for new approaches to wellness. This relationship underlines the significance of nurturing both our physical and mental states. By embracing healthy lifestyles, nourishing diets, and stress-relieving practices, we empower ourselves against illnesses, bolster immunity, and safeguard mental well-being.
Ellen Diamond, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.