OCT 26, 2017 5:59 AM PDT

The Sickness Effect: It's All in Your Head


No one feels well when they have a virus or a cold. Whether it's a stomach bug or a nasty case of the sniffles, being sick is no fun. And your brain realizes this. That sense of lethargy, minor depression and feeling like you can't even summon the energy to wipe your nose isn't just due to whatever batch of germs has invaded your body. It comes from your brain as well, separate from whatever creeping crud you're trying to fight off.

It's because your brain and your immune system are related. They interact in some ways, and one way that's getting a lot of attention in research is how your social brain is impacted by the body's immune response. The brain intersects with the immune system via the vagus nerve. That nerve can detect cytokines which are given off by white blood cells that are trying to fight off infection. The response in the vagus nerve inhibits the social part of the brain, making you feel like staying in bed with ice cream and Netflix. A study in mice that had been surgically altered to have no vagus nerve showed that when sick, the mice without the nerve still socialized and ate regularly. Part of the "sickness effect" as it's called is likely due to evolution, where humans developed a response of staying home and away from people as a way to keep germs from spreading.
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
JAN 13, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 13, 2020
Lunar Dust is Actually Quite Dangerous to Humans
Most people have a tendency to think that lunar dust isn’t any different than the dirt found here on Earth, but quite the opposite is true. In fact,...
JAN 23, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 23, 2020
Scientists Assess the Value of the Ocean's Twilight Zone
Fifteen years ago, an international cohort of scientists and policy experts introduced the idea of assessing ecosystems by the "services" they pr...
FEB 18, 2020
Space & Astronomy
FEB 18, 2020
Will We Ever Solve the Universe's 'Dark Matter' Mystery?
If you were to take a step back from the Milky Way and attempt to observe our universe, you’d see a plethora of bright and colorful sectors made up o...
FEB 18, 2020
Plants & Animals
FEB 18, 2020
This Wasp Turns Cockroaches Into Zombies for its Larvae
We can’t think of anyone that likes cockroaches, but one insect in particular seems to scout them out specifically for its own bizarre reasons. The e...
FEB 23, 2020
Space & Astronomy
FEB 23, 2020
NASA Resolves a Minor Hiccup with Voyager 2 Spacecraft's Performance
After spending more than four decades in outer space, NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft officially left the heliosphere and entered interstellar space in D...
FEB 25, 2020
Space & Astronomy
FEB 25, 2020
What Would Happen if We Sent a Spacecraft Into the Sun?
In 2018, NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe to get its closest look at the Sun yet. The probe gets as close as about 6.2 million kilometers from the Sun&...
Loading Comments...