Tag Archives: immune system

Book Note: Linkages between stress, inflammation, and mental illness


I am in the process of clearing my desk of semester debris. Well, truth be told, I am in the process of clearing a portion of my desk from said debris. The rest will have to wait. In the process, I came across a book I’ve been meaning to read since the dept. purchased it for me: The Psychoneuroimmunology of Chronic Disease: Exploring the Links Between Inflammation, Stress, and Illness (APA, 2010).

Before you all stop reading, it really is an important work! You should care if you are someone experiencing high levels of stress or if you counsel those who do. AND, there IS an answer (you won’t like it!) that can help given at the end of this post.

Yes, it is very technical. You can’t skim this book easily unless you read only the chapter summaries (not a bad idea!). However, I find it very interesting to read about how well-connected (too well!) our minds are with our bodies. Here are a couple of book highlights

1. Chapter one: Stress activates primary and secondary responses that may actually increase our vulnerability to disease. Secondary? Examples given include alcohol abuse, poor diet, non-compliance with treatments. Primary? Your body does a couple of things in reaction to stress. First, your sympathetic system starts looking for inflammation. Immune cells look for an injury. You have more glucose available to burn and cortisol increases which also works to activate anti-inflammatory responses. Inflammation is the problem (a “rapid and nonspecific response to danger”). Too much inflammation? damaged tissue. Too much anti-inflammatory response? Damaged tissue. Those with depression may have become less sensitive to cortisol and so end up with lots of non-specific inflammation. Maybe this is why depression hurts so much!

2. Chapter 3: Poor sleep has serious health consequences, especially concerning chronic diseases. One study indicates that disordered sleep has a direct link to type 2 diabetes, independent of age and body size. Individuals with sleep apneas have a greater production of inflammatory bio-markers. Women may be at greater risk for cardiovascular diseases due to sleep problems than men. One problem (sleep problems) begets the other (inflammation) which creates a vicious cycle.

3. Chapter 4: “Western diets typically contain an abundance of proinflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and are low in anti-inflammatory omega-3s.” (p. 96). In other words, dietary fish oil helps promote healing and may lower symptoms due to inflammatory diseases. More fish oil, less vegetable oil.

4. Chapter 5: Links between stress, depression, PTSD, hostility and inflammation. Each of these things increases inflammation, increases sleep disorders which in turn…(you get the picture).

Okay, does anything help l0wer stress and increase healthy immune system functioning? This is the answer I promised at the top of this post. Are you ready? It is so simple you will hate it!* (that will be something to explore at a later date–why do we resist the things we CAN do to help our situation?)

1. Diet. Having a better (lower) ratio of Omega-6s to Omega-3s (more cold water fatty fish) seem to lower rates of depression. Higher Omega-3 consumption predicts lower suicidality, lower depression, and bipolar disease. It appears these amino acids help stop the overactive inflammatory response caused by repeated stress.

2. Exercise. It will initially raise inflammation markers (hence why many with RA feel that any exercise creates more pain), but later lower it if continued on a regular basis.

3. Counseling. Cognitive-Behavioral social support interventions have shown to reduce the inflammation effect by lowering stress. be effective in doing just that.

So, encourage your stressed clients or friends (even better, do it with them) to eat well, exercise (just walk!) and seek social support. In doing so, they will find relief from inflammation and the effects on the mind and body. I guess it is time for me to get up from this desk, skip the doughnut, and walk up to the library for a bit of exercise. On the way, I should stop by a colleague’s desk and get him to come with.

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*Simple? Yes. Quick fix? No. Sure bet to solve all our problems? Absolutely no.

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