The Immune System & Stress

Stress is a large contributing factor to how well our immune system functions, small doses are inevitable however extended exposure to stress can cause some serious damage to both the immune system and the body itself.

Our blog has discussed stress in the past but today we wanted to have a stronger focus on how stress interacts with the immune system. First and foremost, different people experience stress differently with some being able to juggle many stressors without noticing any physical symptoms while others begin to feel the effects almost immediately.

You may have noticed the word “stressors” in the above paragraph, these are the things that cause the physiological of stress. There are negative stressors (work, social media, bills, deadlines etc) and there are positive stressors (pets, family, winning the lotto etc); they are essentially anything that causes a state of tension in the body and likely a way for humans to be propelled to action. As there are both positive and negative stressors, it is can be difficult to escape a state of stress.

When the human body is under high levels of stress or prolonged (3 or more days) levels of stress, the body activates a small protein called cytokines which is found in the blood stream and has a inflammatory effect. These proteins are a positive thing if you have a pathogenic invader as they are part of the body’s immune response. The problem begins when they are constantly activated due to stress but have no pathogen to battle – it essentially leads to a wearing down of the immune system (think over exhausted soldiers having to battle a fresh enemy). Of course having a pro inflammatory protein constantly activated in the blood stream can also cause other diseases however this article is focused on the immune system.

Another problem that stress can cause to the immune system is the awakening of latent pathogens. Some viruses do not leave the body, sometimes humans create antibodies against them and other times they just remain dormant. Stress has been shown to awaken and trigger viruses back into action and if the immune system is already lowered then it will have a harder time taking on the virus. An example of this is Herpes Zoster also known as Shingles. This virus never leaves the body, the immune system only has the ability to subdue it and allow it to remain dormant in the body. Under periods of extreme stress or prolonged stress, patients who previously experienced this disease report a relapse and it can be a vicious cycle.

Though stress is an inevitable part of life there are many management strategies to assist with the impact and damage. It is important for you to have a hobby that you can indulge in, this is a key point as doing something that relaxes you (crosswords, video games, hand crafts etc) while engaging your mind can help to mitigate daily stress. Sports are also a great way to relieve stress as long as it does not cause too much damage to your body.  It may come to a point where stress can become overwhelming and at that point it is highly recommended that you seek out a registered acupuncturist or herbalist to help your stress management.

In summary, stress causes the body to release/activate inflammatory proteins in the blood stream which causes the immune system to shift into overdrive causing problems when an actual pathogenic invasion occurs. Stress also has the ability to awaken latent pathogens within the body and when the immune system is already weak – it creates a vicious cycle. It is possible to manage daily stress through hobbies and sports however it is recommended to seek out treatment from a registered Chinese Medicine Practitioner if there are management issues.

If you or anyone you know requires assistance with their health, stress or otherwise, please feel free to contact us.

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