Psycho-Neuro-Endrocrino-Immunology and Cancer: Fact or Fiction?
What is Psycho-neuro-endrocrine immunology and how can it effect our health eventually leading to diseases like cancer?
PNEI describes the unity of mental, neurological, hormonal, and immune functions and their potential applications while addressing the influence that cognitive response has on the central nervous system and the consequent interactions with the endocrine and immune systems, incorporating areas that include:
- Infectious disease
- Behavioral medicine
- Placebo effect
Although that seems like a lot of material to cover, basically the PNEI approach is based on the concept of considering disease from a holistic point of view, which considers the human body and its various components and systems connected and influenced by a feedback mechanism within the whole which can be broken down into four categories:
- Nervous system
- Endocrine system
- Immune system
PNEI is not a modern concept. It is an old one that relies upon the ideal of homeostasis, which is, according to the online Miller- Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health (Miller-Keane and O’Toole 2003), “the tendency of biological systems to maintain constant conditions in the internal environment while continuously interacting with and adjusting to changes originating within or outside the system.”
The change of paradigm in modern medicine is the holistic, multidimensional vision that goes beyond the mechanistic and limiting viewpoint of a disease considered only with respect to a single dysfunctional organ or system, which all too often devalues the patient. Evaluating the person from a holistic approach, which considers the human body as an interconnected, functioning whole, is a huge leap in humanistic healthcare.
The PNEI Chain Reaction
Cell biologist Bruce Lipton, PhD, author of the best seller: The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter & Miracles, changed our view of hereditary disease with his revolutionary research on genes which brought new light on how the membrane of the human cell is, in fact, the cell’s brain and not its nucleus as previously presumed.
While it is the job of each cell’s membrane to set in motion the appropriate responses to the environment, in our bodies, those specific functions are set in motion by the group of cells we know as the nervous system. It is the job of the nervous system to monitor, interpret, and respond to external environmental signals, setting off a chain reaction of internal data that eventually arrives to the cells’ “brains.”
Stress to the nervous system is received and interpreted as a signal of fear. Obviously, in modern society, emotional fear is not always associated with death-threatening circumstances like a charging saber-toothed tiger, but the nervous system is unable to distinguish the difference: fear is simply fear, and reactionary hormones are released in the body. Scientists are now fully aware of the potential damage that can be caused by the following chain reaction provoked by the release of the hormones:
- On receiving an alert signal, the first system to mobilize protection against threats is the hypothalamus–pituitary adrenal axis (HPA axis).
- The HPA then proceeds to send a warning signal to the “master gland”—the pituitary gland—whose job is to organize and direct the fifty trillion cells of the community in dealing with the threat.
- The pituitary gland sends a signal to the adrenal glands (one on top of each kidney) informing them of the eminent danger and the need to organize and prepare the body for a “fight or flight” response.
- This internal communication is “triggered” by the brain’s response to stress stimuli in a chain reaction of hormonal releases. First the hypothalamus secretes a corticotrop in releasing factor (CRF)
- The CRF then journeys to the pituitary gland activating hormone-secreting cells. This stimulates a release of adrenocorticotropic hormones (ACTH) directly into the blood stream.
- The ACTH then travels to the adrenal glands, which ignite the “fight or flight” adrenal hormones, which then coordinate the functioning of the body’s organs, providing a powerful physiological response in order to fight or flee from impending danger.
The body’s second protection system is the immune system, whose job is to protect us against invading bacteria and viruses. This particular system, when called into action, consumes large amounts of energy, something we can all relate to when remembering how lethargic we feel as we suffer through a cold or the flu as our bodies fight off an infection or disease.
When the hypothalamus-pituitary adrenal axis is called into action through fear stressors, the adrenal hormones immediately shut down the immune system to conserve energy reserves. This is caused by the brain’s preference to provide vital energy necessary for a physical response to an external threat, postponing the body’s internal fight against infection.
This is one of the enormous disadvantages caused by the intervention of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis during stress, because it interferes with our ability to fight disease and self-heal.
Once stress hormones are released into the blood stream, they constrict the blood vessels of the digestive tract, forcing the blood flow to favor and nourish the tissues of the arms and legs. This “preferential” choice to supply blood to the extremities is a natural response to survival; however, when we live in a constant state of psychoneuroendrocrinoimmunology protection/response, we restrict or even shut down the body’s growth process inhibiting the creation of life-sustaining energy to our vital organs.
Stress is a genuine killer of good health: or rather, the real culprit is our perceptual inability to cope with it.
The quality of our states of mind, especially the unconscious, is important if we take into consideration that the immune system and the brain are the two major adaptive systems of the body that are in constant communication with each other. Past negative emotional trauma, destructive thoughts, and limiting beliefs are amplified during stressful events, which in turn trigger cognitive and affective responses, which, in turn induce sympathetic nervous system and endocrine changes that ultimately impair immune function.
Anxiety, trauma, frustration, fear, guilt, tension, denial, shock, anger, and sadness affect the immune functioning creating physiological variations such as changes in heart rate, blood pressure, muscle contraction, and sweating, which is normal and beneficial if limited to short duration. But, if this continues for long periods (even years), the body, under chronic stress, is unable to maintain its equilibrium and homeostasis.
Today there is sufficient data to conclude that a PNEI imbalance caused by psychosocial stressors and/or interventions can lead to important health changes. In their paper titled: “Psychoneuroimmunology and cancer: fact or fiction?” The authors J. K. Kiecolt-Glaser and R. Glaser write:
There is substantial evidence from both healthy populations as well as individuals with cancer regulation. This discussion highlights natural killer (NK) cells, because of the role that they may play in malignant disease. In addition, distress or depression is also associated with two important processes for carcinogenesis: poorer repair of damaged DNA, and alterations in apoptosis. Conversely, the possibility that psychological interventions may enhance immune function and survival among cancer patients clearly merits further exploration, as does the evidence suggesting that social support may be a key psychological mediator. These studies and others suggest that psychological or behavioral factors may influence the incidence or progression of cancer through psychosocial influences on immune function and other physiological pathways. (Kiecolt-Glaser, Glaser 1999, 1603–1607).
Epigenetics and PNEI are the future of modern medicine that advocate prevention rather than cure. What appears to be emerging is a major shift in our collective consciousness. Regrettably, for reasons such as politics, profit, and medical reputation, medical innovation is on a leash. It can take years for a certified scientific discovery to become accepted and unleashed into the mainstream media, which means that many new scientific discoveries are still relatively unknown as far as the general public is concerned.
However, we are not obliged to follow the masses. Biological behavior and gene activity are linked to “triggers” received from the environment. Whatever external, environmental influences are at play within out reality, if we are informed and conscious of them, we can avoid stress and eventually becoming powerless victims of our own state of health.
The natural inclination of the body is good health. Becoming aware of our true potential is power; all we need to do now is own it!
Text taken from ” The Holistic Approach To Redefining Cancaer” Caroline Mary Moore, Balboa press