Impact of Pain Treatments on the Immune System

Last updated: 03-23-2020

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Impact of Pain Treatments on the Immune System

Editors note: The following article is being re-published with permission from author Cindy Perlin, LCSW. The full article and similar articles can be found on her website, .

Chronic pain patients already have enough physical, emotional and financial challenges. Now there’s COVID-19, the new coronavirus that is causing fear and havoc around the world. One thing that’s abundantly clear is that people with a healthy immune system are not at serious risk. There are many ways you can improve immune system health that aren’t being discussed by health authorities in the mainstream media.

When it comes to pain treatments, some of them are likely to decrease immunity and others are likely to help. What follows is a list of immune suppressing and immune boosting pain treatments. If you are on a drug that suppresses immunity, do not panic and go off of it—rapid tapering or abrupt discontinuation of many of these medications can be dangerous. Consult your physician! Instead, be mindful of those treatments you might be able to add that will help boost your immune system—and possibly help you slowly reduce use of those that are not good for your immune system.

According to the Cleveland Clinic and many other health authorities, steroids reduce the production of chemicals that cause inflammation. That is why they are commonly used to treat inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. While suppressing inflammation, corticosteroids also reduce the activity of the immune system by affecting the way white blood cells work. This creates a lowered resistance to infection.

A 2019 review of the evidence of opioid impact on the immune system concluded that both illegal and prescription opioids negatively impacted the immune system in multiple ways. These included suppression of natural killer cell activity, suppression of antibody production and antibody response, depression of T cell mediated adaptive immune responses and more. Studies have shown increased infection rates, particularly for pneumonia, in patients who were taking opioids for long term treatment of pain.[1]

A 2009 study looked at whether non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including ibuprofen, Tylenol, aspirin and naproxen, reduced immune response. The researchers concluded that these drugs inhibit antibody production in human cells and that “the use of widely available NSAIDs after infection or vaccination may lower host defense”.[2]

Immunosuppressant drugs are used to treat Lupus, MS, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. They are also prescribed for patients who have received organ transplants to decrease the chances the organ will be rejected. Immunosuppressant drugs are designed to reduce the strength of the immune system. This leaves the patient’s body more susceptible to infections.[3]

One of my recent blogs was about how meditation boosts the immune system and reduces pain. According to a 2018 literature review of meditation and immune function, many different types of meditation have been shown to enhance the immune system, including Mindfulness Meditation, Transcendental Meditation and Qigong. The common factor in these types of meditation is their relaxation effect. Meditation improves several markers of immune function, including natural killer cell activity, B-lymphocytes, telomerase activity, and CD8+ T-Cells.[4]

There are many apps and YouTube videos that teach meditation at little to no cost. Palouse Mindfulness offers a free online 8 week mindfulness course.  Incorporating a regular meditation/relaxation practice into your life is one of the best things you can do to improve your health. Why not start now?

Want more hands-on guidance? Find mind-body medicine practitioners here.

There’s an old saying, “Laughter is the Best Medicine”. Modern research shows the truth in that statement. Laughter has been shown to improve immunity by increasing production of antibodies, and increasing activation of T-cells, including Natural Killer cells. Laughter also improves mood, decreases stress hormones, lowers bad cholesterol and systolic blood pressure and raises good cholesterol.[5] It also lowers pain.

Another great thing about laughter is that it is so readily available for free. If you live with funny people or pets, great. Even if you don’t there’s plenty of options on the internet, including on YouTube (funny cat videos are very popular!) and on TV. My favorite source for humor is the comedy channels on SiriusXM Radio, a low-cost subscription service you can listen to on any electronic device. They also offer an amazing array of talk and music channels.  They offer a free trial HERE. If you own an Alexa device, you can ask it to tell you a joke. The jokes are pretty corny, but they are funny.

The power of prayer to heal is a very controversial subject in science and medicine. Religious people tend to live longer, healthier and happier lives. Since scientists can’t prove or disprove the existence of God, they are prone to attributing these better health outcomes to a placebo effect or relaxation effect of belief and prayer. What is much harder for scientists to accept is the power of intercessory prayer, that is the power of praying for others. Studies have shown positive effects even when the patients are not aware that they are being prayed for. One of my biofeedback colleagues, the late Dr. Jeffrey Cram, was actually able to measure the physiological effects of prayer when the subjects did not know they were being prayed for and the person praying was 250 miles away. Dr. Cram found that while the subjects were being prayed for there was a decrease in muscle tension around their heart chakra (at T6) that was significant at p

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