One thing that just about everyone knows
-- to be really healthy, you have to have a strong
immune system. But hereís what most people
know about that: Your
plays a big role in your immunity. And there are other
surprises when it comes to creating immune strength... a
walk in the forest, anyone?
first things first -- the mind connection. To discuss
this, I called Mark Hyman, MD, founder and director of
the UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts, and
The UltraMind Solution.
Dr. Hyman believes that the mind-body connection is so
powerful that it actually can transform a weakened
immune system into an able disease fighter. He called
the immune system "an organ of perception," explaining
that "it perceives what is happening in the environment
around us, both physical and mental, and responds
accordingly." T cells (he calls these white blood cells
"the soldiers of the immune system") have receptors for
neurotransmitters that are activated, in part, in
response to our emotions. Consequently, says Dr. Hyman,
"Our thoughts and feelings literally speak to the T
Here are some ways you can power up your
brain for immune health...
Feed your T cells.
Nourish your T cells with immunity-building messages by
engaging in activities that produce positive and happy
thoughts -- for example, listening to joyful music and
getting a massage. Also helpful, Dr. Hyman said, is to
keep a regular sleep schedule, going to bed and
awakening at approximately the same time each day. This
boosts immune strength by contributing to melatonin
modulation, keeping the body in tune with daily and
seasonal rhythms and changes.
Train your brain to be "well".
A perfect example of the mind-body connection is
meditation, which teaches your brain to achieve a
healthful sense of calm. Harvard cardiologist Herbert
Benson, MD, founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute
at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston
and author of
The Relaxation Response,
describes this as "remembered wellness." This means that
engaging in a regular practice of meditation effectively
primes your body to remember how wellness feels so that
it can create the sensation more readily. Dr. Bensonís
research demonstrated that meditation triggers
scientifically measurable health benefits, including
reduced stress and blood pressure. (See
Daily Health News,
August 16, 2007,
"Ten-Minute Stress Cure: How You Can Elicit the
Relaxation Response," for easy instructions on how to
meditate to elicit this peaceful, healthy state of
A study of 125 first-year law students discovered that
when they reported feeling optimistic, their immunity
improved. Tested at five points during the year,
students had higher cell-mediated immunity (protection
against viral infections as measured by T cell activity)
when they were optimistic than they did when feeling
What Else Strengthens Immunity?
Not all the news about immunity is about
the brain. Here are a few more fascinating findings
relating to immune strength...
A Japanese study
showed that time spent in a forest or wooded area --
referred to as "forest bathing" in that country --
increased immune function. Stress reduction was one
reason, but in addition, all those trees give off
therapeutic airborne chemicals (called phytoncides)
that keep plants from rotting and have been shown to
improve immune function.
A healthy digestive
system helps immunity by ensuring that toxins do not
escape from the gastrointestinal tract into the
body. A new study shows that soluble fiber
(including the kind found in oats, apples, nuts,
lentils and citrus foods) boosts immunity by binding
to and removing an inflammatory protein from the
There is a simple take-home from this
cornucopia of intriguing immune-bolstering research.
Itís not hard to be good to your mind and your body, and
nature offers plenty of easy, effective ways to do so --
all of which can pay off with better health.
Mark Hyman, MD, founder of the UltraWellnesss Center,
Lenox, Massachusetts, and author of several books
The UltraMind Solution