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The relation between psyché and immunity

Author: Prof. Dr. I.B. Iamandescu

The relation between psyché and immunity has two main features:
a) It is bi-directional (reciprocal), a strong interdependence and interaction between neuro-endocrine and immune systems being proved by:
·    the morpho-functional basis (neural cells, immune cells, both able to release cytokines, neuro-hormones and other neuro-modulators);
·    the generation of a “reciprocal pathology” (neuro-psychiatric and endocrine diseases, with immune mechanisms and immunological syndromes, with a neuro-endocrine pathology);
·    the common effects of the psychological factors upon both neuro-endocrine and immune systems, either favorable (“eustress”) or unfavorable (“distress”).
b) It  is  multi-mediated  by  the  genetic  (psychical and immunological) terrain, the experience (biographical factor, i.e. the psychological influences and the immune interaction with various non-self substances) and is based – among other mechanisms – on the polymorphous endocrine-immune patterns, induced by the psychic stress;

The present report is focused on the direction psyché - immunity (intermediated by the neuro-endocrine system), and is centered on the so-called immunogenic traits of the personality, which have a demonstrated effect on the immunity, especially through intermediating the negative influence of cortisol and the positive role of endorphins on NK-cells and γ-interferon, but also on other functions of phagocytosis, Ig A secretion, etc.
·    The main immunogenic traits: self-efficience (the strong self-esteem of an individual is generating the belief in his own capacities to solve varied problems),  hardiness (the capacity to accept the challenge of life’s difficulties, without being too much bothered by these “struggles”), the optimism and humor (as a rich source of endorphins) and the internal locus of control (subject’s ultimate conviction that all his problems depend – for their solving – by his capacities).
·    The dis-immunogenic traits: depression (as a trait of so-called “disthymic personality” and as psychiatric syndrome), anxiety (a high anxiety level can be an occasional syndrome or a characteristic of the anxious personality type), pessimism and “neuroticism” (Eysenck) (an affective complex of emotional instability, hostility and culpability, amplified by anxiety and/or depression).
Thus, the above-mentioned personality traits have a genetic substrate, modulated by individual’s biography. These various behavior patterns determine the way in which the person behaves or copes with stress, and also – the way the organism answers to these challenges. The morpho-pathological basis of this answer is represented by the link between the personality traits and the immune system – in interdependence with the neuroendocrine system, as well as the relationship between this regulation system, as a whole, and other organs and apparatus.

The combination optimism-positive affective personality traits, having a strong (communicational) social support, will stimulate the immunity (NK cells, γ-interferon, Ig As, phagocytosis, etc.), promoting longevity. The combination depression-pessimism-negative affective personality traits, with a weaker social support will induce, via cortisol / low endorphine level – a low immune response, with severe infections, autoimmune diseases and cancer.
The implications of this psyché-immunity relationship could have a certain value in preserving- health: anti-stress strategies, psychotherapy (modeling of risk behavior) and pharmacology (anti-depressive and hormonal medication).
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