Wellness

The Relationship Between Immune Health and Mental Health  

By: PAWC Staff

The importance of cultivating a strong immune system has become evident as we navigate the coronavirus pandemic. It is no secret that a strong immune system can help defend against illnesses, but there may also be a hidden benefit to mental wellbeing. 


At a time when anxiety, depression, social isolation, and burnout are high, taking care of one's mental health is of increasing importance. Research has demonstrated a link between our mental health and immune health and there is a wealth of research that reveals the role of anxiety and depression in weakening the immune system. For example, research has consistently shown a link between loneliness and poor health outcomes. 


Intriguing new research has suggested that the relationship between depression and the immune system may work both ways. Our mental health affects our immune system, and our immune system may also affect our mental health. A recent study found that a specific immune cell which helps regulate immune responses may also fight depression (Pappalardo et al., 2020). 


How to boost your immune system:

  1. Exercise - it is widely agreed upon that exercise plays an important role in protecting against diseases and improving mental and physical health.
  2. Sleep - research has shown a link between a lack of sleep and increased incidence of illness (Prather et al., 2015). Adults should aim to get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep a night. 
  3. Eat a healthy diet - Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and whole foods while limiting added sugar intake is likely to contribute to overall health and well-being. 
  4. Probiotics - Probiotics are microbes that populate our digestive tracts and fight harmful bacteria while promoting immune health. Probiotics can be taken as a dietary supplement and are found in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt, and kefir. 
  5. Dietary supplements - Taking dietary supplements such as vitamin D, C, and Zinc may also boost immune health. 


To read more about how to boost your immune system, check out this article from Harvard Health Publishing: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system  And this  article from  Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-to-boost-immune-health#4.-Eat-more-fermented-foods-or-take-a-probiotic-supplement


To read more about how stress can weaken the immune system, check out this article from the American Psychological Association: https://www.apa.org/research/action/immune 


References

Pappalardo, J. L., Zhang, L., Pecsok, M. K., Perlman, K., Zografou, C., Raddassi, K., Abulaban, A., Krishnaswamy, S., Antel, J., van Dijk, D., & Hafler, D. A. (2020). Transcriptomic and clonal characterization of T cells in the human central nervous system. Science Immunology, 5(51), eabb8786. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciimmunol.abb8786

Prather, A. A., Janicki-Deverts, D., Hall, M. H., & Cohen, S. (2015). Behaviorally Assessed Sleep and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. Sleep, 38(9), 1353–1359. https://doi.org/10.5665/sleep.4968



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