Sunday, April 10, 2011

What is the Brain/Immune Connection?

by Glen Depke

We often hear about the Gut/Brain connection but nobody is talking about the Brain/Immune connection. So what is the Brain/Immune connection all about?

Let’s look at some simple facts first.

If you have poor brain function you will have poor immune function and if you have poor immune function you will have poor brain function. They go hand in hand. Your brain mass is composed of approximately 50% glia cells and recognize that glia cells are immune system cells. It is also important to understand that here are 10 glia cells for every neuron in the brain. Most are not familiar with this significant immune connection with the brain.

So what are the most common challenges that lead to this Brain/Immune imbalance?

When we are challenged with any level of systemic inflammation, which is most health challenged individuals, this will substantially affect your glia cells. Poor sleep patterns is also a big one for us. Poor sleep patterns lead to brain fatigue and when you do not achieve proper rest and recovery, inflammation goes nuts. Actually, only one night of sleep loss can trigger an immune response which also includes the stimulation of proinflammatory proteins. How many of you are missing more than one night of proper sleep per week? Chronic stress has also been shown to influence these inflammatory markers and most of us understand that chronic stress is a current issue.

So what can we do to stimulate this Brain/Immune connection?

First, let’s all understand that by stimulating the brain you will stimulate the immune system’s ability to produce your natural killer cells. There is also a significant tie directly with one part of your brain which is the cerebellum. Movement will stimulate the cerebellum and unfortunately most of us do not move enough. For those that have a poor functioning cerebellum will often recognize challenges with car or sea sickness, poor balance, trivial nausea, and/or scoliosis. Overall you cerebellum will influence your immune system’s T-cells, modulate natural killer cells, improve secretion of cytokines from the bone marrow and thymus, coordinate balance and motor planning and excite the vagus nerve for proper digestion.

Three common areas that challenge proper cerebellum function would be a past head trauma, alcohol consumption and/or poor cerebellum development as a child. If you want your child’s cerebellum to develop properly you will make sure they get out and play regularly, learn a second language and play an instrument. These will all lead to optimal cerebellum development. If you have had a past head trauma, you will want to pay attention to brain symptoms that you may be living with. Alcohol is also a significant cerebellum suppressor and many of us use alcohol to suppress physical and emotional pain, far too often.

Brain symptoms to be aware of that may be creating this Brain/Immune connection are as listed.

• Brain fog
• Progressive degeneration
• Poor brain function
• Cold hands and feet
• Inability to experience joy or to motivate
• Easily upset or feeling worthless
• Poor memory or difficulty learning
• Anxiety or nervousness

Addressing these symptoms as well as balancing circadian rhythms, the adrenals and leaky gut all play a role in finding the health and balance you desire.

If you have any comments or questions, feel free to post these below. I have adjusted the comment moderation, so your post should show up immediately.

If you would like to learn more about the protocols with Glen Depke and Depke Wellness, feel free to register for a COMPLIMENTARY 20 minute phone consultation by following this link.


  1. Dear Dr. Depke,

    I've heard much about you from my friend and fellow classmate at Institute for Integrative Nutrition, Sue Ingebretson. Thankfully, she posted this article on Facebook.

    My areas of interest are brain health and immune health, so this is definitely some fascinating information for me to grasp and learn more about.

    I am particularly interested, since this concerns the health of my husband. I've seen his health improve greatly over the past few years, but there are areas that we're still working on.

    He suffered a major brain trauma in a motorcycle accident 30 years ago. He exhibits each one of the brain/immune connection signs on your list. I've felt that his adrenals may be contributing, but he has not yet been tested.

    To support his brain health, he is taking a highly bio-available B-Complex (Isotonix) and omega-3 fish oil. To support his digestive health we use digestive enzymes (Isotonix) and a liquid aloe product. He is having great results with these, but still is not where he should be.

    Any suggestions of what we may be missing, aside from testing his adrenal function? I certainly intend to learn more about the brain/immune connection, as this will help me as I study to learn more so I can help my clients.

    Thank you for this great information, and I look forward to learning more from you.

    Warm regards,

  2. Hello Beth,

    Very often head trauma is the beginning of longer term brain symptoms. The Isotonix are great products and are definitely a plus. The only that I would not suggest is the enzyme and probiotic because you do not want these in an isotonix form. You actually want these to sit in the gut with the food and not quick absorption.

    Beyond the adrenals you would also want to address any potential gut issues because very often the brain symptoms also tie into gut challenges.

    I you and your husband want to discuss this further, feel free to register for my complimentary 20 minute phone consult for me to review my clinic protocols.