Researchers: Power of the mind can stop you catching flu

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Dr. Jai Maharaj

Power of the mind can stop you catching flu, researchers reveal

By Steve Connor, Science Editor
The Independent, UK
Tuesday, September 2, 2003

Scientists trying to find whether there is any truth to
"mind over matter" say brain activity can control
resistance to influenza. They have demonstrated a direct
link between the brain's emotional state and the body's
immune defences to explain why depressed people are more
likely to catch a cold.

Although there is considerable research showing a
person's mood can influence their susceptibility to a
virus, no previous study has found a direct link to the

Neuroscientists led by Richard Davidson, of the
University of Wisconsin at Madison, found electrical
activity in the left prefrontal cortex - the region of
the brain above the left eye - appears to play a critical
role in directing the body's immune system.

High levels of activity in the same region of the brain
are known to be linked with a more positive attitude to
life, with severely depressed people having a
particularly subdued left prefrontal cortex relative to
their right prefrontal cortex.

Professor Davidson's findings are published in the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They
checked 52 volunteers witha brain scanner, measured each
person's electrical activity in the left and right pre-
frontal cortex before injecting them with a flu vaccine
to see how well their immune systems responded to a
simulated viral attack.

Over the next six months, the scientists monitored the
levels of flu-fighting antibodies that appeared in the
blood of each volunteer. They found those with relatively
high levels of activity in the right pre-frontal cortex
produced greater amounts of flu antibody.

"This study established that people with a pattern of
brain activity that has been associated with a positive
affective style are also the ones to show the best
response to the flu vaccine," Professor Davidson said.
"It begins to suggest a mechanism [that means] subjects
with a more positive emotional disposition may be

Scientists have demonstrated there is a link between
pyschological wellbeing and physical health. Severe
stress and depression also have a direct impact on the
immune system, affecting chemical messengers called
cytokines, which are needed to recover from an infection.
Professor Davidson added: "Emotions play an important
role in modulating bodily systems that influence our

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