When you hear the words “immune system,” you probably think immediately of your body’s defense against seasonal maladies like cold and flu. A strong immune system is definitely an asset in protecting you from these and other invaders.
But it turns out the immune system does a lot more than protect against microbes and infection. In fact, recent research has connected certain cells in the immune system with protecting our mental health…
Certain immune cells could prevent depression
A study comparing immune system cells in the spinal fluid of multiple sclerosis (MS) patients and healthy people has indicated that a type of immune cell called gamma interferon could play a role in preventing depression in healthy people.
Using new technology that allows a detailed examination of individual cells, researchers discovered an autoimmune response like one linked to neurodegenerative diseases such as MS in the spinal fluid of healthy subjects. They found that while the characteristics of T cells in the spinal fluid of healthy people share similarities with those of MS patients, they aren’t able to reproduce and cause the damaging inflammatory response seen in autoimmune diseases such as MS.
Previous research in mice has shown that blocking gamma interferons and the T cells they help produce, can cause symptoms like those of depression. Yale professor and senior study author Dr. David Hafler says depression is also a common side effect in MS patients treated with a different type of interferon.
“These T cells serve another purpose, and we speculate that they may help preserve our mental health,” he said.
Past studies have linked depression with an increase of proinflammatory cytokines in the body.
Dr. Hafler and his Yale colleagues plan to further explore how immune system responses in the central nervous system could affect psychiatric disorders such as depression.
Keeping your immune system strong can go a long way toward supporting your mental health as well as your physical health. There are a number of natural ways to do this…
A healthy gut equals a healthy immune system
One of the best ways to keep your immune system humming is to protect your gut health. Science continues to uncover the multiple ways in which the gut influences the health of the entire body, and especially the brain via something called the gut/brain axis. So, it’s become clear that the gut is central to your immune system function — not to mention your brain and your mood.
Two things that are absolutely essential to good gut health are probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics help enrich and balance the good bacteria in the gut, while prebiotics provide fuel for the probiotics. Probiotics are plentiful in cultured foods like yogurt and kefir, and prebiotic fiber can be found in foods like whole grains, chicory, bananas, onions, leeks, asparagus and garlic.
Try these other immune boosters
Drink green tea. Green tea is a delicious beverage with antioxidant and immune-boosting properties. The EGCG in green tea helps protect cells against damage. And green tea also contains L-Theanine, which helps the immune system fight foreign invaders and promotes a sense of inner calm along with mental alertness.
Eat (certain) mushrooms. Several mushroom types help strengthen the immune system. For instance, shiitake and maitake mushrooms contain beta-glucans, vitamin D and other important compounds that support immune cell function. These mushrooms also function as adaptogens, which help support the body against stress.
Pop some pumpkin seeds. Pumpkin seeds are a good source of zinc, an important mineral for both immune and neurological health. They also contain plenty of magnesium, which promotes relaxation and helps the brain increase GABA activity. GABA is a neurotransmitter involved in relaxation and stress relief.
Discover black seed oil. The oil of the seeds from the Nigella sativa, a plant native to India and West Asia, is known to possess immune system modulating properties. In other words, it supports a healthy and balanced immune response.
Add some burdock root to your soup or salad. A plant native to Europe and northern Asia, burdock root contains inulin, a prebiotic compound that supports healthy bacterial populations in the gut, promotes immunity and stabilizes blood sugar. These benefits are also important for a balanced nervous system.
Burdock root also contains several potent antioxidants like quercetin, luteolin and phenolic acids. Antioxidants help protect against inflammation and cellular damage.
Get some of that “sun” vitamin. Vitamin D not only helps support the immune system, but it also helps protect against depressive symptoms. Numerous studies have connected low levels of vitamin D with depression, so getting enough vitamin D is important for maintaining your mental health.
The easiest way to get vitamin D is through sunlight. But if you aren’t getting enough sun exposure, try obtaining vitamin D through foods like dairy, salmon, tuna or eggs or by taking vitamin D supplements.
The concept of depression as a dysfunction of the immune system — Current Immunology Reviews
Immune-boosting superfoods may also boost your personality — Easy Health Options
What is burdock root? — Healthline
Magnesium-rich food — Cleveland Clinic
7 must-have nutrients during the pandemic and how to get them without risking exposure — Easy Health Options
Vitamin D Helps the Immune System During Cold and Flu Season — Pharmacy Times
The Effects of Nigella Sativa on the Immune Disorders — Research Gate