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Psychiatry and Immunology: A Mind-Body Connection

Updated: Jan 26


We think of our bodies as we see in the mirror: face, arms, legs. The body we do not see far more effects who we are in thoughts, feelings, and actions. Your immune system is everywhere in your body. Your immune system very much effects your brain.


In his 2018 book, The Inflamed Mind, Edward Bullmore, MB, PhD writes, “This new and still growing immunology is scientifically and therapeutically powerful in unprecedented ways. As far as we are concerned, it empowers us to think differently about the links between the immune system, the brain, behavior, and states of mind.


Our immune defense is the army within us. It is quick and coordinated throughout the body. It fights off potential enemies that could kill us any day.


Inflammation is the result of our immune defenses doing what they do every minute of every day to help us be alive and healthy. Inflammation is good, in and of itself. But if the inflammatory defenses are active when not needed for a fight against invaders or body damage, then chronic inflammation can harm the body, including the brain.


Inflammation and Depression


Dr. Bullmore writes, “there are several possible sources of inflammation in the body that could be relevant to depression. One apparently obvious candidate is inflammatory disease…rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, atherosclerosis…”


Dr. Bullmore notes, “Body fat, or adipose tissue is inflammatory. About 60% of the cells in adipose tissue are macrophages, the robocops of the immune system…We also know that overweight people are more likely to be depressed.” In another words, excessive body fat leads to body inflammation leads to brain inflammation leads to depression.


Dr. Bullmore adds, “Age, like obesity, is both a cause of increased inflammation and a risk factor for depression. As we grow older our bodies tend to get more inflamed.”


Dr. Bullmore elaborates, “Greater exposure to early severe stress – like child abuse – could increase the body’s natural tendency to become inflamed in response to social stresses late in life. Increased inflammation in response to stress could drive greater changes in the brain causing more severe depression.”


The genetics of depression tell us more. As Dr. Bullmore discusses the results of genetic studies., he asks the question,” What are these genes and what do they do? Many are genes known to be important for the nervous system…More remarkably, many of them are also known to be important for the immune system.” That is, the genes dictating the nature of your immune defenses also dictate the nature of your thoughts, moods, and actions.


What can you do?


How can you decrease your body’s subtle and chronic inflammation and improve your mood and overall wellbeing?


· Eat anti-inflammatory foods such as fish, nuts, berries, and seeds.

· Consume anti-inflammatory spices such as ginger and turmeric.

· Eat whole grains such as oats, wheat, and brown rice.

· Exercise to build muscle and lose fat.

· Manage stress with deep breathing, meditation, and exercise.


Dr. Bullmore summarizes, “Inflammation can change how the brain works, which causes mood changes and depressive disorders, which increase the risk of social stresses, which cause body inflammation, and so on. There could be several ways to break this vicious cycle.” You’re eating and exercise patterns are a place to start.
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