Immune System Strengthening
According to an editorial in the October 20, 2001 issue of the British Medical Journal, the mere threat of anthrax may be far worse than the possibility of physical illness. The authors wrote, "The ostensible purpose of chemical and biological weapons is to endanger lives. Biological agents, however, are particularly ineffective as military weapons...Instead, chemical and biological weapons are quintessentially weapons of terror...The purpose of these weapons is to wreak destruction via psychological means--by inducing fear, confusion, and uncertainty in everyday life. (1) This is precisely
what terrorists hope to achieve, and media reports suggest that they are achieving some success.
The problem with our excessive fear is
that our nervous system may get confused and may choke off our immune
system making us more vulnerable to future attacks. ("Self
fulfilling prophecy.") Mind plays an important role in
controlling our immune system.
An article in the New York Times described the role played by our sympathetic nervous system on our immune response. According to the article they are related. "Scientists have found the first evidence of an anatomical connection between the nervous system and the immune system. Nerve cell endings in the skin and white blood cells of the immune system are in intimate contact, and chemicals secreted by the nerves can shut down immune system cells nearby."(2)
The studies coducted by Sternberg showed that stress can affect the immunity and the susceptibility of catching diseases by means of the mind-body connection. (3) According to him, "The central nervous system may coordinate both behavioral and immunologic adaptation during stressful situations."
Experts also suggest that our immune response can be a conditioned response. In a key experiment at the University of Rochester, psychologist Robert Ader gave rats saccharine water before they received an immune-suppressive injection, and he discovered that eventually the rats would have an immune-suppressive reaction to drinking the saccharine water alone, without the injection. This experiment showed that neural and psychological events can directly affect the cells of the immune system. The implication is that mind-body interventions can be used to our advantage in improving our immune system.
Clinical studies have verified the influence of mind-body effect on immunity. Cancer patients who participated in support groups, where they talked over their feelings and the problems they're facing, experienced a strengthening of some aspects of immune response, and overall had a better rate of recovery. Women with breast cancer whose personal relationships with husbands and physicians were supportive had improved immune cell activity, according to clinical studies. In fact, students who merely kept journals in which they wrote about their feelings and any disturbing or traumatic events had measurably better immune functions. In another study, reduced T cell counts were found in men who were suffering from profound grief because their wives were dying of cancer.
What all these research observation shows is the importance of keeping a positive outlook on life in order to have an effective immune system. We also need to learn to relax and keep stresses to a minimum. Stress was to detrimentally affect our immune response, important in keeping external attackers at bay.
Meditation, relaxation, guided imagery, humor, hypnosis, and other stress management therapies have been found to be useful in modulating immune response. This has been verified clinically. Elderly patients who were in a nursing home had increased activity of immune cells and had better control over recurrent herpes infections when they were taught relaxation techniques and guided imagery.
One of the key coping techniques of dealing with anthrax and other bioterrorism threats is to keep a positive outlook on life and to take things in stride and to take preventive measures to improve the immunity system.
1. Wessely S, Hyams KC, Bartholomew R: Psychological implications of chemical and biological weapons. British Medical Journal 2001;323:878.
2. Kolata G: Nerve cells tied to immune system. New York Times, May 13, 1993.
3. Sternberg EM, Chrousos GP, Wilder RL, Gold PW: The stress response and the regulation of inflammatory disease. Ann Intern Med 1992