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:
- Exercise - it is widely agreed upon that exercise plays an important role in protecting against diseases and improving mental and physical health.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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
More Resource Articles
Gardening and Mental Health: A Brief Overview
Gardening enhances general well-being, reduces stress, and improves mood.
Managing COVID-19 Anxiety Without Benzodiazepines (Part 4)
Part 4 of a series on taking care of stress and anxiety without benzodiazepines in the time of COVID-19.
Managing COVID-19 Anxiety Without Benzodiazepines (Part 3)
Globally hundreds of millions of people are experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Benzodiazepines such as alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), lorazepam (Ativan) are being widely prescribed by doctors to help people manage their symptoms, and there has been an increase in the illicit market for benzodiazepines.
Kava and l-theanine for COVID-19 Anxiety (Part 2)
This is the second post in a series of non-pharmacologic management of anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first post, I commented on the limited efficacy of benzodiazepines for anxiety and highlighted the medical and psychiatric risks associated with benzodiazepine use, which are greater during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this post, I briefly review the evidence for kava-kava and l-theanine, two natural products widely used for stress and anxiety.
Managing Anxiety During COVID-19 (Part 1)
This post is the first in a series on the management of anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of people have been relying on benzodiazepines such as alprazolam (Xanax™), clonazepam (Klonopin™), lorazepam (Ativan™) and other prescription drugs to manage symptoms of stress and anxiety. While some medications are safe and effective treatments of anxiety, they have limited overall efficacy and potentially serious safety concerns.
Parenting In a Pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic has thoroughly changed the time spent with our families. With parents and children working and learning from home, many of us are getting more family time than we ever expected. Furthermore, the coronavirus threatening public health as well as the current conditions breeding economic and political uncertainty are significant stressors on parents and children alike.
COVID-19 Pandemic Fatigue
It’s hard to believe that we are nearly one year into the COVID-19 pandemic. The initial panic and hoarding of toilet paper have worn off, yet for many the psychological impacts of the pandemic are still very much present and may last longer than the pandemic itself.
Locus of Control and COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic is causing enormous stress for countless millions of people in all world regions. There has been no crisis of comparable magnitude within living memory. Individuals, communities, and entire populations are acutely aware of "loss of control" over their health, their finances, and their daily activities. The impact of "loss of control" on our mental health is made even worse by uncertainty over the future that is unprecedented in modern times...
Lifestyle Choices for Good Mental Health During COVID-19
Simple lifestyle choices can enhance mental health
Because of widespread unemployment and the closing of mental health clinics due to the pandemic, millions of individuals struggling with anxiety, depression, and insomnia do not have access to, or cannot afford psychotherapy or medications. These circumstances may continue for months or even years, depending on how soon effective antivirals and vaccines become available...
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common childhood disorders and can continue through adolescence and adulthood. Symptoms include difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior, and hyperactivity (over-activity)...
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe. They are different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through from time to time...
Everyone occasionally feels blue or sad. But these feelings are usually short-lived and pass within a couple of days. When you have depression, it interferes with daily life and causes pain for both you and those who care about you. Depression is a common but serious illness...
An eating disorder is an illness that causes serious disturbances to your everyday diet, such as eating extremely small amounts of food or severely overeating. A person with an eating disorder may have started out just eating smaller or larger amounts of food, but at some point, the urge to eat less or more spiraled out of control. Severe distress or concern about body weight or shape may also signal an eating disorder...
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
All of us worry about things like health, money, or family problems. But people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are extremely worried about these and many other things, even when there is little or no reason to worry about them...
People with panic disorder have sudden and repeated attacks of fear that last for several minutes. Sometimes symptoms may last longer. These are called panic attacks. Panic attacks are characterized by a fear of disaster or of losing control even when there is no real danger...
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
When in danger, it’s natural to feel afraid. This fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to prepare to defend against the danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a healthy reaction meant to protect a person from harm. But in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), this reaction is changed or damaged. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they’re no longer in danger...
Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder)
Social phobia is a strong fear of being judged by others and of being embarrassed. This fear can be so strong that it gets in the way of going to work or school or doing other everyday things...
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Everyone double checks things sometimes. For example, you might double check to make sure the stove or iron is turned off before leaving the house. But people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) feel the need to check things repeatedly, or have certain thoughts or perform routines and rituals over and over. The thoughts and rituals associated with OCD cause distress and get in the way of daily life...