Coughing colleague next to you? Then your body is already preparing for illness

Coughing colleague next to you? Then your body is already preparing for illness

Cough here, sneeze there, in the office your colleagues take turns getting sick. You can actually feel the mood for yourself. Fortunately, your body is already preparing to fight the common diseases.

Humans and animals can detect disease in others early. A useful survival strategy, because you can then avoid getting sick so you don’t get infected. Only, that’s not always possible these days. We should go to the office, the children go to the nursery and we live together in houses.

Fortunately, our bodies have other ways to protect us from disease. “You may not be able to contact patients before you get sick, but your body is already preparing for battle,” says Patricia C. Lopez, associate professor of biology at Chapman University. She studies how our bodies and behavior change when we get sick. “Our bodily functions, especially our immune system, which protects our bodies from invaders, are tightly regulated,” she explains. “When we get sick, our physiology can change dramatically to help recover from illness.”

Images of patients In her article, Lopez writes that there are scenarios in which our physiology changes before we get sick, when the risk of developing the disease is high. In other words: our brains receive information about patients and then cause changes in our bodies. For example, looking at pictures of patients can actually activate the immune system.”

Lopez mainly looked at the effect of parasites on animals. “Parasites are more effective than previously thought, because they cause physical changes before they attack the body,” she explains. “How these changes before they get sick help animals recover is not yet well researched, but it could have a huge impact on how disease spreads, how we can prevent disease and how we can help people and animals when they get sick,” he said. Lopez.

Coughing colleague next to you? Then your body is already preparing for illness

Stress But how can the brain alter other bodily functions after discovering an increased risk of disease? There are several explanations. One possibility is that the stress response is activated, which in turn affects many organs and can lend a helping hand to the immune system. But brain scans recently showed more direct control because the brain stimulates both the innate and adaptive immune systems by activating specific neural regions in the brain (such as parts of the reward system or the insular cortex). The innate immune system is the body’s first non-specific line of defense, while the adaptive system targets specific antigens and has an immune memory as well.

The third mechanism by which immune function is activated may be disgust. Disgust is a psychological response that we have developed to protect ourselves from infection by feeling a dislike of certain dangerous or unhealthy things and engaging in healthy behavior in response to potential contact with pathogens. For example, signals that elicit disgust would also trigger our immune system, especially the function of innate immunity. There are studies showing that the immune response can be conditioned through disgust. There is also an overlap between brain regions involved in processing disgust and central regions of immune conditioning. Finally, there are neurotransmitters that can play a role. Dopamine, which is important in reward, among other things, also appears to influence the functioning of various immune cells. The same goes for serotonin.

Disease prevention Its modus operandi is still unclear, but the results are very relevant. In her conclusion, Lopez concluded that “discovering what type of physiological response occurs with increased risk of disease and when it occurs is critical.” “It increases our understanding of why some people get sick and others don’t, and how anticipatory physiological responses can influence disease risk.”

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