Psychoneuroimmunology And The Weakening Of The Immune System

Specific Health Concern 7 December 2017


Our immune system allows us to not only defend ourselves against a variety of bacterial, viral and fungal infections, but also against cancerous cells or a foreign body (grafts, transplants, insect stings, rose thorns…). 

The attacked and swollen tissues then produces a special substance which sends a message to our immune system. It is therefore the response to attack which alerts, rather than the presence of the micro-organism itself. 


Our immune system is made of two parts which exist alongside and complement one another. One part triggers an immediate response (non-specific, innate immunity):

it calls into action granulocytes, macrophages and NK cells which act to destroy infected cells. The other triggers a delayed response of a few hours to a few days (targeted immunity) – here, the lymphocyte T-cells are called into action.

The intensity of the response can vary between individuals and according to their general health. Findings have shown a strong link between immunity and good health, both physical and mental. 

Multiple studies confirm the impact of positive thinking on boosting the immune system, which therefore appears to also be partially controlled by the brain. In times of stress, the brain triggers a “stress response” which then calls for neuromediators (adrenaline) and the hormone cortisol.

Adrenaline is released from the adrenal cortex and boosts our resistance to stress by encouraging our fight-or-flight response, whilst cortisol helps our body to defend itself by providing it with an energy surplus. These responses remain identical regardless of what causes the stress, whether physical or psychological. As the perceived danger begins to disappear, the body returns to its normal state. 


However, be aware that if these secretions continue for a prolonged period, negative health effects begin to appear: 

– Excess adrenaline can cause rushes of hypertension, artery inflammation and poor blood circulation to the heart which increases heart attack risk.  

– Excess cortisol can lead to inflammatory responses throughout the body and disrupts the proper functioning of the immune system. In certain cases, auto-immune diseases, diabetes, rheumatism and poor resistance to bacterial infections can eventually develop into chronic illnesses. 

The body therefore develops a system of “psychoneuroimmunology”, which explains and confirms the importance of a positive approach on a daily basis. 

Our inner strength and positivity plays an important role in preventing and treating illnesses. 

Due to their versatility, so called “adaptogen” herbs and plants enable to anticipate and to limit the impact of a stressful physical and psychological situation along with its various specific consequences – anxiety, frequent infections, tiredness… 

When a weakness in the immune system is established, or in an act of prevention, certain plants and herbs can have an impact on both parts of the immune system and are used either in prevention (Echinacea purpurea, Rhodiola rosea…) or for treatment at the first sign or symptom of illness (Sambuccus nigra, Eleutherococus sentincosus). Vitamins (D, E, C, B1, B2, B9), minerals and trace elements (magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, copper), antioxidants (glutathione, carotenoids) and lactic ferments, which all boost their action as immunostimulants.


1. Van Snick, Dr Léo – European phytotherapy review, From Prescription to Dispense, Immune System, No. 85 (04/2015)

2. Jansen Fayard, Thierry – La solution intérieure: Vers une nouvelle médecine du corps et de l’esprit