“Sickness Behavior”: Causes and Solutions


bundant research now supports the concept that distorted immune responses can impact impact mental health.

Immunity not only protects us from pathogens like viruses and bacteria, it also gears up when we’re exposed to pollution in our air, water and food.

The challenge that living in a highly industrialized world presents to our immune systems is different in important ways from the pathogenic forces against which it evolved to protect us. Microbial exposures tend to come and go. Industrial toxins tend to stick around after they enter the air, the water table, the food supply and our bodies.

When our immune systems activate, the cytokines and other chemical messengers they generate induce “sickness behavior,” our tendency to become grumpy, to desire being left alone, feeling fatigued and craving peace, quiet and solitude. This concept rests in part on the recognition that, under the conditions in which humans lived for millennia, a reasonable degree of isolation not only freed up much of an individual’s energy for healing but also served to offer a degree of protection to others in the tribe from infection.

Bottom line: exposure to industrial pollutants in air, water and food can ruin our mood and make progress in therapy more challenging.1,2,3,4,5,6

Cytokines, the chemical messengers that carry the call to inflammatory arms from one part of the immune system to another, rise and fall with feelings of social disconnection and depressed mood.7 So do other pro-inflammatory control pathways.8,9 We tend to dismiss positive social interactions, and overfocus on the negative when we’re inflamed10 and social anxiety increases inflammation.,11 Not only that, but it’s easy to become addicted to things that inflame us,12,13 and research shows pro-inflammatory foods increase the risk of severity of syndromes such as schizophrenia.14

Inflammation is involved in perinatal programming of the developing fetus’ brain in ways that can later contribute to depression, obesity, autism and even schizophrenia.15 Babies of women exposed to air pollution when they were pregnant give birth to children who later express autism at significantly higher rates.16,17,18,19 One study looking into this association documented it in Los Angeles, the town were I was born.20

But while being the child of an inflamed mother may not be the best preparation for life, it’s not only children who suffer. Adults who are inflamed also become depressed, anxious, bipolar or worse.21,22,23

And it’s not just environmental pollution with which we need be concerned. Inflammation can have many sources: chronic infections can cause inflammation contributing to schizophrenia and bipolar features.24

The good news: reducing food-generated inflammation is entirely doable and helps reduce anxiety and depression.25,26,27

Enroll Now to learn all about how modern industrialized diets drive humans mad, how we let this happen, and what we can all do about it.

This Course Focuses on:

  • Understanding Immunity and Autoimmunity: Bodyguards Get Jittery
  • Cytokines, Sickness Behavior and Psychopathology
  • The Microbiome: Immune Tolerance and Intolerance
  • Peer-Reviewed Evidence: Research Links Immunity, Depression and Anxiety
  • Glial cells: Gardeners Run Amok
  • Functional Nutrition for the Inflamed Brain

Goals & Objectives:

Students who complete this course successfully will:

  • Be able to name and accurately describe the function of a cytokine,
  • e able to accurately describe how dietary impacts on the microbiome affect mood and cognition,
  • Name three publicly available resources to which they can refer patients for education purposes and offer a critique of at least one of them.

Four Hour Course

11am- 3pm (PDT, GMT-7)

Sunday, April 24 2022

4 CE Hours for California BBS licensees



  • Understanding immunity & allergies
  • Toxic triggers of immune activity
  • The role of diet
  • Inflammation and mental health
  • Clinical pearls you can put to use immediately
  • How to discuss nutrition with clients while observing scope-of-practice boundaries
  • Complex metabolic pathways made simple with story and metaphor

Four Hour Course

11am- 3pm (PDT, GMT-7)

Sunday, April 24 2022

4 CE Hours for California BBS licensees



  • Understanding immunity & allergies
  • Toxic triggers of immune activity
  • The role of diet
  • Inflammation and mental health
  • Clinical pearls you can put to use immediately
  • How to discuss nutrition with clients while observing scope-of-practice boundaries
  • Complex metabolic pathways made simple with story and metaphor

Duane Law, L.Ac. has taught acupuncturists since the 1980s and has been a provider of continuing education for mental health professionals in California since 2000.

Duane is among the earliest acupuncturists licensed in the US. His clinical focus has been mental health issues and otherwise non-responsive medical challenges since 1982, with an emphasis on food awareness, nutrition and client education as interventions.

The Allergies, Inflammation, Anxiety & Depression course meets the qualifications for 4 hours of continuing education credit for LMFTs, LCSWs, LPCCs, and/or LEPs as required by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, 4 PDA points as required by NCCAOM, and 4 hours of CE credit as required by the California Acupuncture Board.

Normally there are no refunds issued to enrollees after the course begins or once course materials are viewed or downloaded, except if you’re really annoyed for some reason get in touch and we’ll work things out to your satisfaction. The same applies to anyone with a grievance.

If you need special accommodations for any reason please let us know at the time of your enrollment in the course by sending me a message, texting or calling me at (310) 498-2777.

Course certificates for live course attendees will be provided by email within 48 hours at the end of the seminar. Asynchronous attendees viewing the webinar recording will be asked to pass a short quiz; the passing rate will be 70% correct and certificates for these students will be provided by email within 48 hours of completing the quiz. Asynchronous attendees seeking NCCAOM PDAs will also need to complete a worksheet.

Duane Law, L.Ac. (CAMFT 102132) is approved by the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists to sponsor continuing education for LMFTs, LCSWs, LPCCs, and/or LEPs; and by NCCAOM (Provider #9140) and the California Acupuncture Board (CE Provider #1667) to provide continuing education for acupuncturists.

Duane Law, L.Ac. maintains responsibility for this program/course and its content.

 1. Selye H. A Syndrome Produced by Diverse Nocuous Agents. Nature. 1936 138:32.

 2. Kelley KW, Kent S. The Legacy of Sickness Behaviors. Front Psychiatry. 2020 Dec 3;11:607269.

 3. Eisenberger NI, Moieni M, Inagaki TK, et al. In Sickness and in Health: The Co-Regulation of Inflammation and Social Behavior. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2017 Jan;42(1):242-253.

 4. Engler H, Benson S, Wegner A, et al. Men and women differ in inflammatory and neuroendocrine responses to endotoxin but not in the severity of sickness symptoms. Brain Behav Immun. 2016 Feb;52:18-26.

 5. Lasselin J, Elsenbruch S, Lekander M, et al. Mood disturbance during experimental endotoxemia: Predictors of state anxiety as a psychological component of sickness behavior. Brain Behav Immun. 2016 Jan 11. pii: S0889-1591(16)30003-4.

 6. Maes M, Berk M, Goehler L, Song C, et al. Depression and sickness behavior are Janus-faced responses to shared inflammatory pathways. BMC Med. 2012 Jun 29;10:66.

 7. Eisenberger NI, Inagaki TK, Mashal NM, Irwin MR. Inflammation and social experience: an inflammatory challenge induces feelings of social disconnection in addition to depressed mood. Brain Behav Immun. 2010 May;24(4):558-63.

 8. Irwin MR, Cole S, Olmstead R, et al. Moderators for depressed mood and systemic and transcriptional inflammatory responses: a randomized controlled trial of endotoxin. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2019 Feb;44(3):635-641.

 9. Figueroa-Hall LK, Paulus MP, Savitz J. Toll-Like Receptor Signaling in Depression. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2020. 121: 104843.

10. Muscatell KA, Moieni M, et al. Exposure to an inflammatory challenge enhances neural sensitivity to negative and positive social feedback. Brain Behav Immun. 2016 Oct;57:21-29.

11. Moieni M, Irwin MR, Jevtic I, et al. Trait sensitivity to social disconnection enhances pro-inflammatory responses to a randomized controlled trial of endotoxin. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2015 Dec;62:336-42.

12. Petrulli JR, Kalish B, et al. Systemic inflammation enhances stimulant-induced striatal dopamine elevation. Transl Psychiatry. 2017 Mar 28;7(3):e1076.

13. Wallace CW, Fordahl SC. Obesity and dietary fat influence dopamine neurotransmission: Exploring the convergence of metabolic state, physiological stress, and inflammation on dopaminergic control of food intake. Nutr Res Rev. 2021 Jun 28;1-42.

14. Cha HY, Yang SJ. Anti-Inflammatory Diets and Schizophrenia. Clin Nutr Res. 2020 Oct 28;9(4):241-257.

15. Bolton JL, Bilbo SD. Developmental programming of brain and behavior by perinatal diet: focus on inflammatory mechanisms. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2014 Sep;16(3):307-20.

16. Volk HE, Hertz-Picciotto I, et al. Residential proximity to freeways and autism in the CHARGE study. Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Jun;119(6):873-7.

17. Volk HE, Lurmann F, et al. Traffic-related air pollution, particulate matter, and autism. JAMA Psychiatry. 2013 Jan;70(1):71-7.

18. Kalkbrenner AE, Windham GC, et al. Air Toxics in Relation to Autism Diagnosis, Phenotype, and Severity in a U.S. Family-Based Study. Environ Health Perspect. 2018 Mar 12;126(3):037004.

19. Young AM, Chakrabarti B, et al. From molecules to neural morphology: understanding neuroinflammation in autism spectrum condition. Mol Autism. 2016 Jan 20;7:9.

20. Becerra TA, Wilhelm M, et al. Ambient air pollution and autism in Los Angeles county, California. Environ Health Perspect. 2013 Mar;121(3):380-6.

21. Michopoulos V, Powers A, et al. Inflammation in Fear- and Anxiety-Based Disorders: PTSD, GAD, and Beyond. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2017 Jan;42(1):254-270.

22. Felger JC. Imaging the Role of Inflammation in Mood and Anxiety-related Disorders. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2018;16(5):533-558.

23. Howes OD, McCutcheon R. Inflammation and the neural diathesis-stress hypothesis of schizophrenia: a reconceptualization. Transl Psychiatry. 2017 Feb 7;7(2):e1024.

24. Tanaka T, Matsuda T, et al. Infection and inflammation in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Neurosci Res. 2017 Feb;115:59-63.

25. Chong HX, Yusoff NAA, Hor YY, et al. Lactobacillus plantarum DR7 alleviates stress and anxiety in adults: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Benef Microbes. 2019 Apr 19;10(4):355-373.

26. Lu C, Gao R, Zhang Y, et al. S-equol, a metabolite of dietary soy isoflavones, alleviates lipopolysaccharide-induced depressive-like behavior in mice by inhibiting neuroinflammation and enhancing synaptic plasticity. Food Funct. 2021 May 26. doi: 10.1039/d1fo00547b.

27. Kalkman HO, Hersberger M, Walitza S, Berger GE. Disentangling the Molecular Mechanisms of the Antidepressant Activity of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid: A Comprehensive Review of the Literature. Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Apr 22;22(9):4393.

Share This