Positive Emotions boost immune system and overall health

2015 Research

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have produced a groundbreaking study where the sought to understand the mechanics of how emotionally-positive influences (nature, art, spirituality) might influence health. The findings were published in the journal Emotion.

Whether you are standing in awe before The Grand Canyon, the Sistine Chapel ceiling or Schubert’s “Ave Maria” your body’s defense system gets a boost.

Awe inspires lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are proteins that signal the immune system to work harder. Cytokines are crucial and help the immune system fight infection and trauma. But while low levels are wonderful, high levels have been linked to diabetes, Alzheimer’s and heart disease.

 “Our findings demonstrate that positive emotions are associated with the markers of good health,” said Jennifer Stellar, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Toronto and lead author of the study, which she conducted while at UC Berkeley.

Positive emotions promote good health

In two separate experiments, more than 200 young adults reported on a given day the extent to which they had experienced such positive emotions as amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, joy, love and pride.

Samples of oral mucosal transudate were taken from gum and cheek tissue that same day and showed that those who experienced more of these positive emotions, especially awe, wonder and amazement, had the lowest levels of the cytokine, Interleukin 6, a marker of inflammation.

In addition to autoimmune diseases, elevated cytokines have been tied to depression. And depression is linked to a number of chronic diseases including cancer.

One recent study found that depressed patients had higher levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokine known as TNF-alpha than their non-depressed counterparts. It is believed that by signaling the brain to produce inflammatory molecules, cytokines can block key hormones and neurotransmitters – such as serotonin and dopamine – that control moods, appetite, sleep and memory.

Chicken or egg?

So which comes first,  the low cytokines or the positive feelings? Stellar can’t say for sure: “It is possible that having lower cytokines makes people feel more positive emotions, or that the relationship is bidirectional.”

Ref: http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2015/02/02/anti-inflammatory/

2015 Research
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