I know that is a very long word. Psychoneuroimmunolgy, or PNI for short, is also called another long phrase sometimes, psyhconeuroendocrinology (PNE). These confusing long terms are a very interesting field of medicine that you need to actually know about. I just finished listening to a neurosurgeon do a two-day seminar on it and want to tell you what I learnt. Trust me, you REALLY need to know this stuff.
Why I believe you need to know what PNI is because this is you right now. Sitting there reading this article what state is your nervous system? How strong and well controlled is your immune system? Do you have the right amount of hormones floating around your body? Are you unknowingly squirting nasty chemicals called pro-inflammatory cytokines into healthy organs or joints and breaking them down? Want to know how to create a chemistry of wellness in your body? Have I got your attention yet, hopefully 🙂
Table of Contents
Brains Behaving Badly
Don’t freak out with the topic because of the very medical sounding name. I’m going to break it down in easy to understand tid bits for you.
In one paragraph psychoneuroimmunology is when your brain is behaving badly. It is when you are making the wrong chemicals or not enough of the good ones. This in turn has an effect of making your body have an immune response which in turn stimulates the secretion of inflammatory chemicals. These inflammatory chemicals attack healthy parts of your body causing pain, degeneration and terminal illnesses.
The definition of psychoneuroimmonolgy from Google is:
The study of the effect of the mind on health and resistance to disease
I think that is a nice definition as the word resistance is in there. You’ll see why I use the word resistance later.
Prof Robert Ader is the man credited with co-founding this branch of medical studies. You can see a quick clip of him explaining psychoneuroimmunolgy below. For a nice article about his life’s work you can read this NYTimes article.
So Your Saying Stress Will Kill Me?
Yes stress can kill you. We all know that as the truth.
You can’t live in a chronic stressed out state without it affecting your health status in some way. Be that mild or severe.
The way I like to describe stress is that stress comes in different formats. It is a fatigue due to lowered resistance to a stimulus. So you could be experiencing physical stress, emotional stress or a chemical stress. Most likely all three.
This is also known as the biopsychosocial model of health.
Your health is made of your physical condition, your internal state of mind and how the environment you live in both at home, work and recreation affect you.
Lets look at a real life example of what I’m talking about:
“Mr CEO” comes to consult me for low back pain. Fine, he has been diagnosed with a trapped nerve in his lower back going down his legs. MRI scans, nerve conduction studies, general blood tests all come back as normal. A neurosurgeon feels nothing he can do surgical so he prescribes cortisone tablets on refers for manual medicine treatment like Chiropractic or physiotherapy.
Performing a PNI diagnostic test I get to see the truth of Mr CEO’s life.
He is energetic and driven in his working life. However, there seems to be low chemical resistance to change. Meaning anything happens in his work life he might not take it so well health wise.
He has little energy and fulfilment in his personal and inter-personal life. Here to the test comes back saying another low chemical resistance. Again, anything negative in this aspect of life will possibly create a health change.
He also has low energy and fulfilment in his recreation side of life. There is no risk of low chemical resistance in here as you should only enjoy recreation.
I also see no integration in any of these three aspects of life. He seems to be living three separate lives. One at work then one at home then sometimes having fun.
So what truth comes out just showing the diagnostic test to Mr CEO? When his low back pain started he and his wife decided to move out to the country to be closer to the kids in boarding school and a less complicated life. This hasn’t turned out as rosey as they pictured.
He had to travel 4 hours by car every Monday to work in the city. Live in the city during the week then drive back to the country again on a Friday. He used to enjoy driving, now it gives him back pain.
When at the country home they are renting, his wife makes him spend the time looking for a house to buy in a place he has no friends in and no venue to enjoy like a favourite coffee shop to chill in.
There is little time with the kids from boarding school of which time is typically structured and he must just follow what they need to do on the weekend.
Are you also seeing the same picture of an unhappy nervous system here? The mechanical low back pain could be worsened by the emotional fatigue of no fun in life, physical fatigue from travelling showing up as a chemical fatigue of low happy hormones and higher stress hormones like cortisol or adrenaline. I talked about understanding pain here
YES YOU CAN!
Ok so I have only painted a picture of doom and gloom so far. Now I want to show you that there is a chance bask in the sunlight of success.
Getting shown a poor psychoneuroimmunolgy test result can be the spark to ignite change in your life.
Everyone tells me “I know things aren’t great at the moment and I need to fix things”. So people know their brains aren’t in a happy space. They know this can be negative to their health. But they haven’t changed, yet.
Seeing a reality check of your life helps you create a game plan to sort your life out.
Instead of saying “I know I need more balance in life” which just overwhelms people so they never change, you now know to begin the change with small goals. When was the last time you listened to that song that gives you goosebumps, that just makes you feel so good you want to sing it out loud?
PNI chemicals are corrected into happy brain chemicals by introducing a sense of fulfilment back in your life. A sense you are achieving your life mission statement. Being present in the moment you are living and engaging in your needs and not just others.
The Medical Chemical Cascade
Skip this if you aren’t interested as it is not necessary to know. However, just in case you do want to know here is the medical physiological cascade of psychoneuroimmunology:
Low serotonin, low dopaime levels in the brain with high noradrenaline decreases the nucleus accumbens and stimulates the amygdala. This leads to an immune response of macrophages. These macrophages stimulate pro-inflammatory cytokines (TNF-alpha or interleukins) which then attack healthy tissue. This can lead to cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, disc degenerative disease, dementia and more.
This is the brain-immune loop or mind-body state is a simple way to call this physiological cascade.
It is all about getting your dopamine and serotonin high the natural way. Anti-depressants are ok for some, but they are only moderately better than placebo. Check out this conversation on just that topic with Robert Ader as one of the special panel guests.
How To Start Fixing Your Brain Chemistry
Oki dokie this is the beginner’s guide to healing your brain chemistry:
- Write Down a Mission Statement
For me it was enlightening to actual write down the main thing that inspires me in a day and how I tend to achieve that using a verb of action. This is the time to engage in your needs.
- Play Your Goosebump Music
What I mean is the kind of music that gives you goosebumps on your skin when you hear it. This is that song or album that when you put it on and start listening to it you want to sing along. I tell patients don’t listen to the radio in the car on the way to work play songs that uplift you. Music is such a quick way to change your mindset. We see famous athletes wearing headphones on the bus to the stadium. They are playing their motivation music to help put them in the zone. You can do that to. Start to help your brain make happy hormones by changing what your listening to everyday.
- Start Seeing the Positive
Set yourself a small goal to see some of the positive aspects of your life. Remember that you have done something good at your job before, you have made someone smile in your conversation with them. This reminds you it is possible to have positive things happen in your work or personal life.
- Set Easy Goals
It easier to start with small realistic goals of achievement to fulfil your needs. I mentioned it earlier, but for me playing my favourite song or two on the way to work makes me feel good and is not for anyone else to enjoy. Time wise, what two songs is 8-10mins in my day, so realistic to fit in. I’m an auditory person and music is a quick dopamine high for me to boost my energy. So use that ipod, iphone, mp3 player, cd in the car to its full effect.
- Start Exercising Today
I know what your thinking here, thanks Captain Obvious 🙂 When I say exercise I don’t mean hitting the gym. Go for a walk that could even be 10 minutes. Use the time to listen to your energy songs you just loaded on the mp3 player. research shows how powerful moving our bodies is in changing our brain chemistry to the good chemicals. I mentioned this in the 23 and a half hour disease cure post.
- Schedule “You Time”
Most of the time we are doing activities it is a household chore that needs to be done, it is an activity someone else asked us to do. Schedule you time per week. This is the recreation time that lifts your energy. Maybe an hour with a best friend that is pre-booked every week. Use this time to be present with the friend and not worrying about the future or stuck in the past only. Maybe an hour per week when you practice a hobby. If you don’t book it in your diary your find something else to fill that time.
- Live in the Moment
I have talked about how to do mindfulness training and health benefits in army recruits. Living in the moment is harder than most people think. Very few can go 5 minutes without drifting into thought. I just read some latest research showing mindfulness training over 8 weeks not only reduced loneliness in the elderly it even lowered c-reactive protein (CRP) in their blood. CRP is a biomaker of inflammation. Want a natural anti-inflammatory, this shows the importance to start living in the present and to stop the future shock and dwelling in the past feelings. Personally I have recently been using my iphone to achieve this within 5 minutes of my day. I have been using mindfulness app from mindapps on the app store.
I think it is awesome that you can biohack your health right now and everyday yourself. You don’t need expensive gadgets you don’t need lots of time in your day to reboot your brain chemistry. As a chiropractor we were always taught about innate intelligence. Innate is your own bodies ability to fix itself. Psychoneuroimmunology or psychoneuroendocrinology now proves the chemistry behind how the body can both dis-ease itself, but at the same time how well it can heal itself and create long-term wellness. I hope this post has inspired you to begin the healing process today.
Books to read about psychoneuroimmunolgy: