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Recently I talked with a colleague about general physical health. He revealed to me that he had not visited a dentist in 13 years. I followed up and asked the obvious if he has any complications with caries, gum disease etc. He denied having any problems. 2 days after our talk I saw him again and the left side of his face was swollen. He told me that 1d after our talk he experienced severe pain and swelling stemming from one of his teeth.

The question is, can awareness of bodily functions influence immune function of the body? Could our talk about dental health triggered an immune reaction? Are there any studies which have investigated this? I'm aware of mind-body connection through hormones, but can awareness directly influence the immune system. For example, can activity of the immune system in certain regions be increased by placing them at the center of awareness?

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  • $\begingroup$ What makes you think the pain and swelling is an immune reaction? There are many possible causes of these symptoms that have nothing to do with immunity. Are you asking if the immune system can be affected psychosomatically, or if psychological factors can trigger pain and swelling in teeth? $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Dec 3, 2021 at 22:24
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    $\begingroup$ I'm sorry I can't follow. What are possible causes of these symptoms which are not part of the immune system? (immunology = study of immune system). The question is if the fact that we become aware of something can somehow translate into an immune reaction. In the example because of our talk his immune system would send additional white blood cells to the area we were talking about. Is there a possible mechanism or is it just a coincidence. I'm not asking if our talk lead to agitation which through stress altered the hormones which lead to immune reaction. I know this is probably difficult to $\endgroup$
    – Rubus
    Dec 3, 2021 at 22:39
  • $\begingroup$ ..disentangle... $\endgroup$
    – Rubus
    Dec 3, 2021 at 22:39
  • $\begingroup$ ...To put it differently, can I somehow inform my immune system to increase activity in certain regions of my body by just thinking about them or place them at the center of my awareness? $\endgroup$
    – Rubus
    Dec 3, 2021 at 22:45
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    $\begingroup$ Some people grind their teeth for example, and they might do more of that if they are thinking about their teeth or if they are ruminating about a conversation they had with a colleague, and this could lead to pain and swelling. Just one example of many. I understand that this question is really about the immune system, and not about the pain and swelling, thank you for clarifying. $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Dec 3, 2021 at 22:45

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The short answer is no, you cannot direct immune responses to specific areas, but you can boost or lower immune responses throughout the body via mood and mindfulness.

What you are talking about here is Mind Over Matter, and while many poo-poo the idea, there are cases where it does seem to work.

While the link provided isn't directly related to the question per se, it gives you an incite into some areas of mind over matter that have been studied.

If you are familiar with the movie, Patch Adams (1998), it told the story of the real Patch Adams (Hunter Doherty "Patch" Adams) who founded the Gesundheit! Institute in 1971.

Hunter Adams,

urges medical students to develop compassionate connections with their patients. His prescription for this kind of care relies on humor and play, which he sees as essential to physical and emotional health.

The way he has personally seen this is that this kind of care speeds up the recovery process and patients can go home earlier. D'Acquisto, F. (2017) found this to be the case and called for a new scientific area of research called affective immunology.

Studies over the last few decades have provided sufficient evidence for similarities and overlaps between the immune and emotional responses. The majority of living beings use both systems to adjust dynamically to the ever-changing conditions of the external environment. Both systems can either be protective for the body if kept under control or detrimental to it when they are in disarray. Despite the vast body of knowledge we have gathered on the links between these two systems, there have been very few attempts to move this area of research from bench to bedside. This might be due to many causes, including the perceived impression that the world of immunology and that of psychology or psychiatry are completely different, if not polar opposites.

One of the main aims of this review is to help overcome this skepticism and to highlight the importance of these similarities in clinical settings.

The New Scientist magazine highlighted that you can heal yourself by thinking positive.

Go on, try to convince yourself, because realism can be bad for your health. Optimists recover better from medical procedures such as coronary bypass surgery, have healthier immune systems and live longer, both in general and when suffering from conditions such as cancer, heart disease and kidney failure Aspinwall & Tedeschi, 2010

They also highlighted that

There is some evidence that meditation boosts the immune response in vaccine patients and people with cancer, protects against relapse in major depression, soothes skin conditions and even slows the progression of HIV.

Fiacco, et al. (2017) conducted a cursory study into the effect of mindfulness over the immune response, highlighting that stress has been linked to diseases such as type 2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. But, the study didn't really provide any strong evidence to back the theory, although:

Participants with a higher mindfulness score revealed a more positive mood profile. Further research is needed to investigate the effect of trait mindfulness on other immune parameters.

This is probably due to the cursory nature of the study.

References

Aspinwall, L. G., & Tedeschi, R. G. (2010). The value of positive psychology for health psychology: Progress and pitfalls in examining the relation of positive phenomena to health. Annals of behavioral medicine, 39(1), 4-15. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12160-009-9153-0

D'Acquisto, F. (2017). Affective immunology: where emotions and the immune response converge. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 19(1), 9. https://doi.org/10.31887/DCNS.2017.19.1/fdacquisto

Fiacco, S., Lozza, N., Kübler, U., Ehlert, U., Scheiwiller, M., Rüttimann, C., ... & La Marca, R. (2017). Mind over matter–The association between mindfulness, acute stress and the immune response. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 83, 16. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2017.07.281

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for this answer. I will leave the question open, if no one answers the bounty goes to you... $\endgroup$
    – Rubus
    Dec 4, 2021 at 9:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Rubus if you find the answer useful then an upvote helps too, just like a downvote if not useful or does not answer the question. $\endgroup$ Dec 4, 2021 at 9:56

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