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Psychoneuroimmunology Takes on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By HERWriter
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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome related image Photo: Thinkstock

I am not a believer in wishful thinking. But I have become a fan of Psychoneuroimmunology.

These two things are NOT one and the same.

Psychoneuroimmunology showcases the constant communication between the neurological system, the endocrine system and the immune system. Big guns, all.

So what does this have to do with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome? CFS severely wounds the neurological system, the endocrine system, and the immune system (among others). Wouldn't it be great if these damaging messages could be ... tweaked?

When I read that I could affect chemicals being selected and messages being relayed by my thoughts and emotions, I ... well, I highly doubted it. After more reading and mulling though, I conceded that this might be true.

Further study convinced me that my thoughts and emotions trigger chemical messengers, and I could influence WHICH messengers fire from my brain and are received by my immune system and endocrine system. Logic suggested I make them good ones.

Feelings of hope and confidence send different chemicals through my body than fearful, pessimitic ones. Whether I really believe them or not seems irrelevant. I'm doing my best to think about recovery as a real possibility, and try to picture a healthy future, even before I'm actually able to make any of it happen.

This whole concept is slow in catching on with the general public however.

Here's the problem as I see it. As soon as the "Psycho-" part of the "-Ology" registers, the mind backs off in a particular direction. And not a favorable one, I might add.

I have a degree in psychology, and respect the discipline. But I also know that the injection of psychology for many, is tantamount to guesswork and heebie-jeebies.

We've all had the experience of being sick and trying to wish ourselves better. And the experience of ... staying sick, despite all our earnest wishful thinking.

The mention of psychoneuroimmunology nudges our cynical mistrust that the physical can be affected by the psychological. The whole topic can come across as being irresponsible -- why are you doing this, do you want people to quit taking their medicine and get sicker?

The idea! Thinking that thought can affect health.

Except that, it can. It does. And that's without our even trying. These neurotransmitters and other messengers are on tap all the time. We could see better results if we put a little conscious effort into it.



Psychoneuroimmunology: Bi-directional Interactions Between the Brain and the Nervous System

Illness, Cytokines, and Depression

Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine

Visit Jody's website and blog at http://www.ncubator.ca and http://ncubator.ca/blogger

Add a Comment8 Comments


I agree, it applies to everything and everyone.

I talk about it in this article about CFS because CFS is the biggest thing I deal with. I think it's important that all of us chronics be allowed to have every possible tool that might help us heal.

This is something that we can use without needing a doctor or anyone else's cooperation. And we need all of that we can get.

October 30, 2010 - 5:37pm

Hi Anonymous,

I totally understand your suspicion of the psychosocial cop-out. I am leery and disillusioned with that stuff too.

This is different though. And while it's no quick fix or complete solution, I figure, if there are things within the realm of possibility that can make any difference, I'm for it.

This is not "positive thinking" or shaking it off and getting on with life as though we are lazy or depressed. This is looking at the impact that our own chemicals make on our bodies and our health.

I'm no expert by any means, and I'm sure my terminology is not medically correct but hopefully what I'm trying to say is coming through.

Look at it this way. If we're dealing for instance with a retrovirus like XMRV, it is activated or speeds up or whatever when the sympathetic nervous system is activated. When the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, this proliferation of retroviral activity is not increased.

So the more time we can keep the parasympathetic nervous system activated, the better the environment for physical healing in our bodies.

Once again, I probably have mangled the terminology. :)

October 30, 2010 - 4:39pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Jody Smith)

This sounds like a basic principle applicable to all states of health and every disease, and not a new or ME/CFS-specific idea--i.e. stress makes anything worse, while relaxation, a good social support system, and the like, make people relatively better (not cured, of course).

Just please, don't relate it to ME/CFS specifically because of the war between the good science and the malfeasant opinions. I know you don't intend to give comfort and support to the Hamans who are still in power, but it just comes across wrong. Thanks.

October 30, 2010 - 5:00pm
EmpowHER Guest

I'm sorry, but I'm just deeply suspicious of this as an ad-hoc argument to sustain/excuse the defunct (bio)psychosocial model of illness causation/perpetuation in the face of overwhelming evidence of a biomedical nueroimmune disease.

When I hear that they are using psychoneuroimmunology successfully for Lupus, Cancer, Graves disease, Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, and AIDS (and preferably that it has been published in something other than a behavioral medicine or psychosomatic journal, maybe Neuroendocrine Letters or something like that), then I will look at the research.

October 30, 2010 - 4:28pm
EmpowHER Guest

You might want to explore the relationship between sickness syndrome and Il-10. You will note that sickness syndrome and CFS are very similar and that Il-10 is modulated by HO-1. EGCG has been shown to improve CFS symptoms in mouse models and EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) modulates HO-1. :)

HEIRS Research

September 7, 2009 - 7:14pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

OOps - forgot to say EGCG is in green tea!

HEIRS Research

September 7, 2009 - 7:16pm


It most certainly can mean seeking out alternative treatments. I think it would work best in conjunction with such treatments.

To pursue a number of avenues and vehicles for healing is good sense. And many alternative treatments connect very well with this outlook, and incorporate mind-body techniques as part of their treatments.

To me, the key is not so much mind over matter but the realization that the output of the mind, IS matter, it is the healing chemicals, the T cells, the B cells, the natural killer cells. They are matter, but influenced by the thoughts of the mind. So instead of fighting against this process, we set out to harness it and make it work for us.

We set out to discipline our thoughts and feelings, to guide them, into the healing modes using our immune system for us rather than against us.

This process is happening all the time, between our nervous system and our immune system (also endocrine system though I haven't written about that one yet). The goal is to make it work to our advantage.

August 26, 2009 - 6:11pm

If the thought of mind over matter would also mean preferring to find an alternative treatment to prescription drugs, then count me in. I'd also much rather go forth with the attitude that I can control my condition than give into it and the steroids that far too many patients become dependent upon.

You go, girl!

August 26, 2009 - 5:49pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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