Psychoneuroimmunology | The World From the View of Two Teenage Girls: Psychoneuroimmunology

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


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As previously promised, here's my paper on psychoneuroimmunology.  It's pretty long, but it WAS for school, so yeah.  My sources can be found at the bottom if you're interested in finding out more.

psy·cho·neu·ro·im·mu·nol·o·gy [s̄̀kō noorō ìmmyə nólləjee]

In 2012 there were an estimated 1.6 million new cancer cases reported in the United States (American Cancer Society ).  Such a drastic number raises the question: what if people were capable of healing themselves, free of charge?  There are many cultural references that include a person able to move objects with their mind.  Some even propose humans capable of controlling another with the power of their mind.  People may be able to use their mind to control their own body, just as easily.  Keonig  defines psychoneuroimmunology as “the study of how social and psychological factors affect the neuroendocrine and immune functioning” (Keonig).  In order to best understand Keonig’s definition, it should be broken into four main parts. First are social factors, which can include the environment as well as the behaviors of those in it.  Next, is psychological factors, which can be defined as a person’s mental health, including stressors (events or triggers that cause stress).  The third part involves neuroendocrine cells.  These are cells that receive neuronal input and, as a result, release hormones into the blood.  The last part is the human immune system.  Immune functioning is how the human body uses the immune system for defense against diseases and for healing wounds.  The progression of research on psychoneuroimmunology can, and most likely will, be beneficial to humans in the future.

Many different experiments have been conducted on the correlation between mental and physical health.  Studies have found multiple links between psychological factors and the early stages of cancer. There is strong evidence that these factors play a pivotal role in the progression of cancer and the overall mortality rate (Fagundes, Lindgren, Kiecolt- Glaser).  Research indicates that a person's mental health may affect the formation of cancer. This suggests it is more likely for the state of mind to affect the progression of the disease.  There are other aspects of human wellness that psychological factors affect.  Research by Kiecolt-Glaser, McGuire, Robles, and Glaser shows that “that immune modulation by psychological stressors can lead to actual health changes, with the strongest direct evidence to date in infectious disease and wound healing” (Kiecolt-Glaser, McGuire, Robles, Glaser).  Due to the fact that stressors can be either negative or positive, there is a strong possibility that having a positive stressor can aid in disease recovery and healing of physical wounds.  On the other hand, this theory indicates that a negative stressor can increase healing time.  Negative stressors can also possess the ability to the body unable to recover from illness or injury.  Another study links stress to depression.  It indicates that these elements consistently elevate inflammation and are often experienced simultaneously.  Troubled relationships can often exacerbate these issues (Jaremka, Lindgren).  There is evidence that a positive mood and attitude can help boost the immune system and that negativity is harmful to the body. As previously mentioned, these negative thoughts and attitudes caused by depression and stress are harmful to the immune system. This degradation can lead to inflammation of tissue and organs in the body. In this condition, the body is more susceptible to disease and complications from surgeries.  Through the research conducted, it is evident that there is the possibility for both positive and negative emotions to affect the internal functions of the body, such as inflammation, the immune system, and healing.  It is proposed that with therapy, decreased negativity can lead to faster healing and recovery.  As more experiments are conducted through the years, it will be possible to more accurately target and treat diseases and wounds.

There are many practices, such as meditation and yoga used in psychoneuroimmunology research.  For example, in a study by Davidson, Richard, and other researchers it was found that “significant increases in antibody titers to influenza vaccine among subjects in the meditation compared with those in the wait-list control group” (Davidson, Richard, et al.).  In order to best understand this definition, it needs to be broken down. Meditation, a practice where a person trains their mind, creating a mode of consciousness is another example of the connection between the mental and physical state.  An antibody is a protein that fights off infections and is created when a foreign substance invades the body.  Antibodies remain in the body, to help fight should the same substance invade again.  Repeat diseases can easily be fought off by these antibodies.  In Davidson and Richardson’s study, meditating was shown to assist in the creation of more antibodies, allowing the body to fight diseases, such as influenza.  It can be concluded from this research that inducing a state of consciousness, such as meditating, can have positive effects on the body.  This doesn’t only go one way, though.  According to a study, “Yoga was most commonly used to treat musculoskeletal or mental health conditions, and most users reported yoga to be helpful for these conditions” (Birdee, Gurjeet S., et al.).  This is another example of a current application of the mind-body connection.  Yoga differs from the meditation, though.  As opposed to a state of mind helping the body, a physical activity aids the mind.  Through a physical activity, such as yoga, a person’s mental health can be improved.  The mind-body connection is currently being used and many benefit from it.

Increasing awareness is as important to the field of psychoneuroimmunology as the research itself.  This is demonstrated with breast cancer patients.  Those who were more hopeful about life and their odds of recovery, were less likely to relapse within five years than those who were less hopeful (Fagundes, Lindgren, Kiecolt-Glaser).  If it is known that being more hopeful will increase life expectancy, not only will patients strive to have more hope, but they will become more hopeful as they know their life expectancy has increased.  Studies also showed that the more depressed a patient, specifically a woman, was, the more likely she was to die within five years (Fagundes, Lindgren, Kiecolt-Glaser).  If it becomes common knowledge to treat depression first, this could increase the chance of remission.  Knowledge of psychoneuroimmunology research could give patients reduced recovery time because it opens the door for early treatment.  As shown in an inflammation study, “the relationship between distress and inflammation is bidirectional; depression enhances inflammation and inflammation promotes depression” (Jaremka, Lindgren).  Inflammation of tissues and organs can cause additional complications, as well as weaken the immune system.  If a patient with depression begins to notice warning signs of possible inflammation, medical attention should be sought immediately.  This gives patients the opportunity to work with their care provider to establish a treatment plan before the negative effects spread.  In these situations, time is often the largest enemy.  Additional awareness of the connection between mental and physical health can increase patient’s chances of remission.

There is plenty of room for growth and development regarding the application of psychoneuroimmunology research in the medical field.  Based on the results of multiple studies, the use of various methods of therapy could be the next step in many areas.  Studies show that women were more likely to be diagnosed with cancer within fifteen years of a stressful life event than those who had not had a stressful event occur (Fagundes, Lindren, Kiecolt-Glaser).  If people were warned that their chances of getting cancer increased after the occurrence of a stressful event, they would be more likely to seek therapy to alleviate their stress.  Therapy does not completely eliminate the risk, but those receiving therapeutic counselling would find the chance of being diagnosed with cancer reduced.  Then, if they do contract cancer, their chances of recovery will be higher.  This is no small issue and the opportunity to benefit human-kind is significant.  In 2012 there were an estimated 1.6 million new cancer cases (American Cancer Society) and 577,190, cancer related deaths in the United States alone (Siegel).  The number of cases occurring each year could decrease greatly with increased knowledge of how stress and depression affects cancer patients.  These changes create a snowball effect where mental health improves, thus improving physical health.  Fewer cases occurring means the number of people who need to be treated will be reduced, leaving room for each patient to get the attention they deserve.  Doctors can leverage this opportunity to spend more time with patients in a proactive manner.  Time spent on preventative care can reduce healthcare costs while improving the lives of millions; as additional research is conducted on the relationship between the mind, the immune, system and other inner processes, more illnesses can be prevented.

Psychoneuroimmunology is the study of the effects of psychological factors on the immune system.  Currently, it is being used in many different areas, but is primarily still in the research and experimentation phase.  A variety of several experiments have been conducted, concluding the state of the human mind measurably impacts recovery time and overall patient health.  Scientists have merely scratched the surface of medical application. This means there is significant opportunity for the expansion of research and its application.    In turn, this will continue to develop the link between mental health and physical wellness.  Because of this correlation, not only patients, but all humans can benefit from the continuation of psychoneuroimmunology research.

Works Cited

American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2012. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2012

Axelrod, Julius, and Terry D. Reisine. "Stress hormones: their interaction and regulation." Science 224.4648 (1984): 452-459.

Birdee, Gurjeet S., et al. "Characteristics of yoga users: results of a national survey." Journal of general internal medicine 23.10 (2008): 1653-1658.

Davidson, Richard J., et al. "Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation." Psychosomatic medicine 65.4 (2003): 564-570.

Fagundes, Christopher P., Monica E. Lindgren, and Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser "Psychoneuroimmunology and Cancer: Incidence, Progression, and Quality of Life." Psychological Aspects of Cancer (2013): 1-11.

Jaremka, Lisa M., Monica E. Lindgren, and Janice K. KiecoltGlaser. "Synergistic relationships among stress, depression, and troubled relationships: insights from psychoneuroimmunology." Depression and anxiety 30.4 (2013): 288-296.

Kiecolt-Glaser, Janice K., et al. "Psychoneuroimmunology and psychosomatic medicine: back to the future." Psychosomatic Medicine 64.1 (2002): 15-28.

Koenig, Harold George, and Harvey Jay Cohen, eds. The link between religion and health: Psychoneuroimmunology and the faith factor. Oxford University Press, 2002.

Menzies, Victoria, et al. "Psychoneuroimmunological relationships in women with Fibromyalgia." Biological research for nursing 15.2 (2013): 219-225.

Moye, L. A., et al "Research methodology in psychoneuroimmunology: rationale and design of the IMAGES-P clinical trial." Alternative therapies in health and medicine 1.2 (1995): 34-39.

Siegel, Rebecca, Deepa Naishadham, and Ahmedin Jemal. "Cancer statistics, 2012." CA: a cancer journal for clinicians 62.1 (2012): 10-29.

Webster Marketon, Jeanette I., and Ronald Glaser. "Stress hormones and immune function." Cellular immunology 252.1 (2008): 16-26.

Zachariae, Robert. "Psychoneuroimmunology: A Bio-Psycho-Social Approach To Health And Disease." Scandinavian Journal Of Psychology 50.6 (2009): 645-651. Academic Search Premier. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.

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