This is the unit that is close to my heart. It was when I studied this information, a little more than 20 years ago, that my insatiable appetite for information on the brain began. I found it truly fascinating that, through science, they can prove how what we think in our mind directly effects the chemical balance within our brains and, in turn, affects our bodies. There is such an undeniable connection; we need to learn as much as we can about it. When you begin to understand the power of this topic you will be able to appreciate how applying the information in this manual has the potential to be truly life transforming.
The field of psychoneuroimmunology really started to take hold in the late 1980’s. Today it is a field of active research. The definition of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is the study of the interaction between psychological processes and the nervous and immune systems of the human body. This field of research reveals the true power of positive thought, even down to a cellular level.
What actually happens in the brain?
Here is, again, where the opening unit will help you visualize the portions of the brain involved in thought process and neurological response. Let’s take one of the most basic emotions… fear. Suppose you are walking down the street alone at night. As you walk past a dark alley, from the corner of your eye you see a figure moving towards you at a rapid pace. In a split second, before you can even process cognitively what is happening, a message is sent from your eyes to the amygdala. The amygdala, in turn, responds by sending a message to the hypothalamus, telling it to release hormones that communicate with parts of the endocrine system; releasing a flood of some 30 hormones into your body. Hormones like epinephrine, norepinephrine, and glucocorticoids. These, in turn, create a physical response; increasing your heart rate and allowing your muscles to perform optimally. You begin to run, yell, or otherwise look for escape from the impending danger. All of this taking place before you even realize cognitively what has happened.
In addition to the above, during times of increased stress your pancreas will release a hormone called glucagon. This, combined with what already took place, will raise circulating levels of glucose in your system. This, of course, now puts stress on your internal organs.
Not all hormonal systems are stimulated during the body’s stress response; some are inhibited. Various reproductive, growth, and pancreatic hormones are inhibited. Production of hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and insulin are interrupted. The negative effects of the inhibition of the growth hormones is most notably apparent in cases of Psychogenic Dwarfism. 
Here is the interesting thing: your body has that same physiological response when it is under most other types of stress, not just fear. What happens in the brain and body when you experience fear of failure, fear of what others think, fear of public speaking, or anything similar, is the same as if you are running for your life. Simply thinking about something stressful will cause the same response. Our brains respond to EMOTIONAL STRESS exactly as it responds to PHYSICAL DANGER. Stressful thoughts brought on by negative emotions or negative self-talk will result in a similar negative response in the brain and, therefore, the body. The problem is that our bodies were never designed to take the constant flush of these hormones.
There is also a neurotransmitter and brain chemistry shift when you are experiencing negative emotions and negative thoughts; our little amygdalas are going crazy. Now, remember: the amygdala, hippocampus, thalamus and hypothalamus are all very closely connected and heavily influenced by each other. Recall: the action of the hypothalamus, and hormones generated there, has a direct influence on the immune system. If one part of the system is stressed, then all of them are. If one part of the system is not performing properly, then none of them are!
Notable research, negative and positive
I will attempt to not get too terribly lengthy in this part. There are so many studies that have been done that it is hard to only list a few, but I will try. Some of these are contained in the book Head First, which you will be reading as part of this unit. I will be highlighting the ones that impressed me the most.
It is nothing short of fascinating to me that negative emotions brought on by any stressor in our life can actually change the amount of immune fighting cells in our bodies. Professors Ronald Glaser and Janice Kiecolt-Glaser went about studying medical students as they approached those ever stressful examinations. They found that as these tests grew near the medical students would actually experience a reduction in disease-fighting immune cells. They also noted additional negative effects on the immune system. This is one of the reasons that I feel our approach to evaluating a person’s knowledge should be investigated; to find a better way. Remember the unit on introversion and extroversion; the brain of the introvert becomes very overwhelmed in the presence of the extra stimulation surrounding tests. So not only will they have a harder time remembering the information that they clearly know, but their immune system will take a serious hit as well.
This same couple (Glaser/Keicolt-Glaser) did another study with caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients. When they measured the caregiver’s immune cells roaming in their bodies they found that they had lowered numbers of T cells and helper T cells. These cells are critical for our everyday battle against invading germs and the more serious attacks on free radicals that lead to diseases like cancer.
The connection between all of these little portions of the emotion part of our brain is incredibly important to look at. For example: the hypothalamus. Remember, hormones that come from this portion of the brain influence and alter immune system function. It is effected by the brains activation of the fight or flight response. Research shows that stimulation to the back of the hypothalamus impairs the performance of disease-fighting cells in the immune system. Lesson here…Don’t mess with the hypothalamus!
Cancer is a huge area of research when it comes to psychoneuroimmunology. Drs. Sandra M. Levy and Ronald B. Herberman conducted research at the University of Pittsburg Cancer Institute. They worked with a group of breast cancer patients and found that the group who showed depressed behavior had diminished natural killer-cell activity and accelerated spread of tumors. Other researchers found that cancer progresses at a faster rate and tumors spread more rapidly in patients with an overall negative mindset or increased stress.  Are you getting the picture of just how important this information is?
The depression and onslaught of negative emotions that occur when you suffer the loss of a loved one is clear. There have been numerous studies on individuals who have suffered the loss of someone close to them; these loses were from death or even separation or divorce. The researchers have found that the subjects in the studies had lower killer-cells, less immune stability, and decreased T and B cell activity. Clearly these are events that individuals have no control over. However, how they deal with the loss can either have a minor effect on their immune function or a major hazardous effect.
No matter what the source of the depression, the physical effects are clear. The Glaser’s, mentioned previously, also conducted research with patients suffering from depression. They found that highly depressed patients had significantly poorer DNA repair in immune cells that had been exposed to irradiation treatment than did less depressed patients.  There is firm scientific evidence that continues to mount to support the position that depression alone can inhibit the effectiveness of the immune system during times of stress and/or bereavement.
The effects on our internal organs will also be significant. Stress to the cardiovascular system makes the heart tissue more sensitive to damage.  Because stress causes an intense cardiac response it leaves the arteries open for serious damage. Dr. Carol Shively found that stress causes plaque buildup in the arteries which, of course, restricts blood flow. Of course we know that this jeopardizes heart health and, in turn, raises your risk of heart attack.
The heart is not the only internal organ that is negatively affected in this scenario. Researcher A. Guyton found that stress actually reduces the function of the kidneys.  That’s bad, especially considering that the kidneys play a major role in filtering the toxins out of the body. Damage can also be done to the pancreas. According to Drs. E. Moberg, M. Kollind, P. Lins and U. Adamson, stress and negativity can actually block insulin secretion in the body. This, in turn, raises your risk of type 2 diabetes. 
Breaking news…negative thinking and, YES, stress can cause ulcers! Decades ago doctors put out a major campaign informing people that stress caused ulcers. Then a few years back doctors discovered that it was really a bacteria in your digestive system that was responsible for the majority of ulcers. Well guess what? This bacteria can be kept in check by a healthy digestive system that is supported by healthy immune function. However, things change when you are experiencing excessive negative emotions. The effectiveness of your immune system is reduced and the health of your digestive system is compromised; allowing the bacteria to cause serious damage. The result: stress related ulcers.
If the previous information was not scary enough, take a deep breath; these next couple of facts will make you really uncomfortable. What about our brains? I have already explained the negative responses that occur in the brain when you are experiencing negative thoughts, stress and emotions. And, that’s not all that happens. It can cause measurable structural damage. Dr. Robert Sapolsky and Dr. Bruce McEwen found that chronic stress and chronic exposure to glucocorticoids (produced in the body due to stress) causes damage to brain cells in the hippocampus; the result is that it actually shrinks. The hippocampus is critical to learning and memory.  Certainly not a portion of the brain we want to compromise.
One more point to make you a bit more uncomfortable: Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn and her associate Dr. Elissa Epel, at the University of California San Francisco, have been studying the effects of stress on chromosomes. More specifically the end of chromosomes, the telomeres. These are caps that protect the end of the chromosomes from damage. As we age, these begin to deteriorate and shorten. The researchers found that the length of the telomeres is directly related to the length of time under stress and how much stress you are under. They looked at a group of women who were caring for moderate to severely disabled children. They found that these women had a more rapid shortening of their telomeres; for every year of caring for their disabled children their telomeres showed a shortening equivalent to 6 years. Basically, the reduction of the length of the telomeres will lead to a shortening of the life span of the cells and result in a shorter life span for the person!
The list goes on and on. I could fill pages and pages just quoting these studies but I think you get the point. The evidence is undeniable…negative emotions and stress cause a negative reaction in the brain and that, in turn, has a negative effect on our immune system and, in turn, a negative effect on our bodies. All of this becomes a downward spiral. We are sad, depressed or stressed out, so our bodies have this negative response which makes us tired and guess what …depressed! Then the snowball builds and builds; the dominos fall. We not only shorten our life but the years we have are simply miserable, filled with health challenges, aches and pains.
Now that you are thoroughly depressed and your brain is suppressing your immune system; what do you do, or help your clients to do, to stop this vicious cycle from happening? That is next.
 Stress: Portrait of a Killer, National Geographic dvd; see also 101 Questions Your Brain Has Asked About Itself but Couldn’t Answer Until Now, Faith Hickman Brynie, Twenty-First Century Books 2007
 One of the most famous cases of Psychogenic Dwarfism was of Peter Pan author James Matthew Barrie.
 Norman Cousins, the author of Head First, actually started out his career as a journalist. It was later in life that he received an honorary degree in medicine from Yale School of Medicine. He became, among other things, an Adjunct Professor in the UCLA School of Medicine. As a result of his work, there is now the Cousins Institute on Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA. He was instrumental in bringing this field of research into the public eye. He wrote several books but I feel this one is the most applicable for this training.
 Psychosocial modifiers of immunocompetence in medical students, Psychosomatic Medicine 46 (1984): 7-14. J. K. Kiecolt-Glaser, W. Garner, C. Speicher, G.M. Penn, J. E. Holiday and R. Glaser. Also see “Modulation of cellular immunity in medical students” Journal of Behavioral Medicine 9 (1986): 5-21
 Chronic stress and immunity in family caregivers of Alzheimer’s disease victims. Psychosomatic Medicine 49 (1987): 523-535. J. K. Kiecolt-Glaser, E. C. Shuttleworth, C. S. Dyer, C. E. Speicher, P. Ogrocki, J. C. Scout, and R. Glaser
 Neurohumoral Maintenance of Immune Homeostasis. Dr. Elena A. Korneva, Victor M. Klimenko and Elenora K. Shkhinek Translated in the University of Chicago Press, 1985
 “Prognostic risk assessment in primary breast cancer by behavioral and immunological parameters.” Health Psycology 4 (1985) 99-113
 The Relationship of psychosocial factors to prognosis indicators in cutaneous malignant melanoma. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 1985, 29, 139. See also D. Spiegal and P.M. Kato “Psychological influences on cancer incidence and progression. Harvard Review of Psychiatry 1996, 4, 10
 Marital quality, marital disruption, and immune function. Psychosomatic Medicine 49 (1987): 13-34 J. K. Kiecolt-Glaser, L. D. Fisher, P. Ogrocki, J. C. Scout, C. E. Speicher, and R. Glaser See also “Suppression of lymphocyte stimulation following bereavement.” Journal of the American Medical Association 250 (1983): 374-377 S. J. Schleifer, S. E. Keller, M. Camerino, J.C Thornton, and M. Stein.
 Distress and DNA repair in human lymphocytes. Journal of Behavioral Medicine 8 (1985) 311-320
 Alterations in immunocompetence during stress. Joseph R. Calabrese, Mitchel A. Kling, and Phillip W. Gold of the National Institute of Mental Health in Rockville, Maryland.
 Mechanisms of cortisol-induced hypertension in humans. Steroids, 60: 76. J. Whitworth, M. Brown, J. Kelly, P. Williamson
 National Geographic, Stress: Portrait of a Killer; also see “Stress: Neurobiology and Neuroendocrinology: M. Brown, New York Marcel Dekker 1991
 Blood pressure control-special role of kidneys and body fluids. Science 252, 1813
 “Acute mental stress impairs insulin sensitivity in IDDM Patients” E. Moberg, M. Kollind, P. Lins and U. Adamson Diabetologia 37, 247
 Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Robert Sapolsky, W. H. Freeman and Company 1998
 National Geographic Stress: Portrait of a Killer
 National Geographic Stress: Portrait of a Killer