Learn few facts how state of your mind may affect your immune system.

Our immune system does not exist in isolation from a daily experience, including emotional experience. The brain, nervous system, immune organs and cells, and the endocrine glands are joined together through several pathways. Interesting studies have been conducted by psychologists collaborating with immunologists pointing to effects of psychosocial factors on the immune system leading to the emergence of psychoimmunology, or psychoneuroimmunology, a discipline that studies interactions of psychological processes with nervous and immune systems and aims to determine how psychosocial factors impact immunity and by extension the course of disease, if it occurs [1]. 


The emotional competence plays an important role in maintaining health while the emotional repression, helplessness and pessimism may contribute to poorer immune function. We often live in a stress-driven society which fuels the plague of illnesses. Stress creates the civil war inside our body and has negative effects on our immune system. Numerous studies suggest that the behavior, the attitude or state of mind impact the immunity and thus can alter the course of disease [2,3]. For example, the length of survival in advanced breast cancer patients was linked to expression of more joy and less depression at baseline. Helplessness was associated with earlier disease recurrence in early stage breast cancer. Strong positive correlations were discovered between NK cell activity of melanoma patients with curiosity and vigor for example, while negative correlations were found between NK cell activity and tension, fatigue, anxiety, mood disturbance and depression [2] (as a reminder, NK cells, next to the cytotoxic T cells, are one of the most potent anti-tumor effector cells). Similarly, in patients with autoimmunity, for example ulcerative colitis, psychological stresses have also been described to affect the course of disease [4].

In modern medicine, we attempt to understand the body in isolation from the mind. The physician examines our body, runs plethora of tests, yet rarely ask the question about our state of mind. The more we understand about mind and body and its reciprocal interactions the more we can learn about ourselves and take responsibility for our minds equally well as we take responsibilities for our bodies. Yet, it is crucial to regard biological aspects of a disease (disease pathology, severity of the disease, time of treatment interventions, etc) as the key determinators of disease course, however if psychosocial factors matter, even if slightly, these are worth spending energy on because all human beings have the power to change their behavior. Biological and psychological interventions can be pursued in parallel maximizing the chance of positive outcomes. 

Recommended read

"When the body says no" by Gabor Mate 


1. Tausk F, Elenkov I, Moynihan J. Psychoneuroimmunology. Dermatol Ther. 2008 Jan-Feb;21(1):22-31. doi: 10.1111/j.1529-8019.2008.00166.x. PMID: 18318882.

2. Maté, G. (2019). When the Body Says No: the cost of hidden stress, Scribe Publications Pty Limited.

3. Levy, S.M., Wise, B.D. Psychosocial risk factors, natural immunity, and cancer progression: Implications for intervention. Current Psychology 6, 229–243 (1987).      

4. ENGEL GL. Studies of ulcerative colitis. III. The nature of the psychologic processes. Am J Med. 1955 Aug;19(2):231-56. doi: 10.1016/0002-9343(55)90377-6. PMID: 14398717.