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Brain Health
3 Min Read
Last Updated: 12.06.23

Using Your Nervous System to Enhance Your Immune System

In this episode, Huberman delves into the significance of stress on the immune system and provides techniques to manage stress effectively. Additionally, he discusses the impact of exercise, sleep quality, and specific nutrients on immune function. Practical tips for maintaining a strong and resilient immune system.

Key Takeaways

High level takeaways from the episode.

10–20 years ago, the idea of the mind controlling the immune system was not widely accepted

Now, there are many peer-​​reviewed studies on how the nervous system can control the activation of the immune system

Recent study in Nature from Chufu Ma’s Lab at Harvard Medical School explored how acupuncture can reduce inflammation in the body

  • Stimulating fascia in a particular location leads to a pathway to the adrenal medulla, which can release chemicals that have a potent anti-​​inflammatory effect

The nervous system acts as a set of highways between different tissues in the body

  • It can call the immune system into action, releasing molecules that reduce inflammation and lead to faster healing

Three main layers of defense for health

  • Layer 1 Physical barrier: skin 
    • Primary barrier to keep harmful things out
    • Openings: eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth
    • Mucus lining in nose, mouth, and digestive system acts as a filter and trap for bacteria and viruses

Three main layers of defense for health

  • Layer 2 Innate immune system 
    • Rapid response when something enters the body that isn’t recognized
    • Involves release of cells like white blood cells, neutrophils, macrophages, and natural killer cells

Three main layers of defense for health

  • Layer 3 Adaptive immune system 
    • Produces antibodies against bacteria, viruses, parasites, and physical intruders
    • Shows up at the site of invasion or infection, called by various cues including cytokines

Markers of inflammation measured in blood include interleukin 1, interleukin 6, and tumor necrosis factor alpha

Sickness behavior is a suite of responses that occur when feeling sick:

  • Slowing of usual activity levels (lethargy)
  • Loss of grooming and self-care
  • Loss of appetite

Sickness behavior is a motivated state designed to accomplish certain things:

  • Slow blood circulation to increase lymphatic system activity
  • Reduce the probability of infecting others
  • Activate a desire for care and support or a desire for isolation (varies by individual)

Sickness behavior shares similarities with major depression:

  • Both involve increased levels of inflammatory cytokines (interleukin 6 and tumor necrosis factor alpha)

Theory: reducing appetite reduces protein intake, which reduces iron intake, which can limit the capacity of infections to travel within the body

Hypothalamic area (super optic nucleus) promotes the desire to sleep during sickness

Multiple pathways signal to avoid light, reduce behavior, and heat up the body

Bright lights become aversive during sickness

Inflammation when sick affects memory and cognition, making it difficult to focus on tasks

Actively engage the nervous system to deploy a more robust response during the early phase of infection

Emerging data on supplementing precursors to serotonin (e.g., 5‑HTP) or consuming foods high in tryptophan

  • May enhance serotonin levels and improve immune response
  • Serotonin and related pathways can enhance immune system function

Heating up the body with sauna can help combat infection, similar to fever response. Caution: Do not use sauna if already running a fever, as it can dangerously raise body temperature and kill neurons.

‘Starving a cold’ is not well-​​understood, but fasting can increase adrenaline, which affects the immune system

Activating the sympathetic nervous system through specific breathing techniques (Wim Hof) can enhance the immune response and help combat infections

  • Blood oxygenation drops
  • Alkalinity of the body increases (pH goes from 7.4 to 7.6)
  • Release of epinephrine (adrenaline) is thought to cause reduction in inflammation

Mindset can impact the immune system through specific biological pathways and protocols

  • Sense of hope (thinking about a positive future) can activate the dopamine system
  • Activation of dopamine system can improve recovery from illness

Studies show spirulina (2‑gram doses) can reduce allergic rhinitis (congestion and inflammation of the nose)

  • Inhibits the formation and/​​or activity of histaminergic mast cells
  • Used effectively to treat seasonal allergies


Science-​​based tools and supplements that push the needle.

Foundational Immune Defense Protocols


Maintain Healthy Gut and Orifice Biome for Immune System


Activate Glymphatic System When Sick


Sauna or Hot Bath for Immune System


Stimulate dopamine pathway for Immune System


Spirulina for Immune System and Seasonal Allergies


Acupuncture for Immune System


Wim Hof Breathing for Immune System



We recommend using this distillation as a supplemental resource to the source material.

  • Using Your Nervous System to Enhance Your Immune System

    Huberman Lab #44

    Huberman explores immune system function, microbiomes, breathing, catecholamines, sleep, and stress management. Practical tips for enhancing immune health.

Full Notes

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