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Improve Your Immune System Strength By Reducing Stress

By Aiko Jin


    In an earlier blog post, 5 natural health leaders shared their favorite stress relief techniques.  But these aren't just methods to keep you emotionally healthy, these are essential for your physical health.  You may think viruses and other microbes make you sick.

    But that's not necessarily the case. Sure, germs lead to an infection. But only if they outsmart your immune system, get inside of you and establish a foothold in your body.  And stress - more often than not - opens the door and lets them in.

    The American Medical Association reports that 80-85% of doctor visits can be traced back to stress[1]. Stress undermines your immune system in multiple ways, making it hard for your defenses to protect you adequately from the threats to your health all around you.

Stress Rides Your Immune System Into The Ground

    In 2004, researchers Suzanne Segerstrom and Gregory Miller, analyzed close to 300 studies examining stress's impact on the immune system. They found that small bouts of stress like an exam or giving a speech increased immune activity and sometimes shifted immune activity from one part of your immune system to another.

    But chronic stress did something very different. Chronic stress unequivocally drags your immune system down[2]. See, your immune system is primed to respond to stress. On every cell in your immune system, lie specialized receptors for the stress hormones norpenephrine, epinephrine and cortisol. When you're exposed to a short bout of stress, your body's fight or flight reaction kicks in. As part of getting ready for a fight, your body gets prepared for wounds and exposure to infections. So your immune system goes on high alert.

Stress Rides Your Immune System Into The Ground

    This immune response exposed short-lived stressful moments can be good. Some research indicates it may even help you fend off cancer.  But when stress is ongoing, things change. As Dr. Yufang Shi, a researcher at the National Space Biomedical Research Institute explains, "Following periods of prolonged physical stress... white blood cells that fight disease, called lymphocytes, die at an increased rate and immune system organs like the thymus and spleen lose mass and begin to atrophy."[3]

    Your immune system dwindles in both numbers and strength. In fact, stress is so potent, doctors use the stress hormone, cortisol, to tamp down an overactive immune system. But stress doesn't just take out immune cells, it slows your immune response in another profound way...

Stress Makes Your Immune Cells Stop Listening

    Your immune system depends heavily on communication to be effective.  Too much stress may limit how effectively your immune system cells respond to immune signals by altering immune cells at the genetic level.  So while the signals may be there... and you may have immune cells roving around patrolling... the immune cells may not be listening to the signals and responding appropriately.

    In one study published in Biological Psychiatry in 2007, researchers compared the immune reactions of people who were caregivers to family members with chronic illness to people who didn't have these responsibilities. The immune cells of people who were caregivers barely responded to signals that would ordinarily trigger a response.

    When researchers looked a little deeper, they found something very disturbing. The caregiver's immune cells had changed at the genetic level from those of non-caregivers[4]. This research indicated that the stress caregivers were experiencing may be changing how their immune system functioned at the genetic level, hampering their immune cells ability to respond to immune signals.

Want To Stay Healthy? The Best Thing You Can Do Is De-Stress

    Stress destroys your best defense against illness & your immune system. Without this to protect you, anything can get you. There are plenty of natural and effective immune allies out there. But if you don't tackle stress, you're losing half the battle no matter what you take.

    By managing your life and making choices, you can reduce stress as well as relax and recharge. And by doing this, you give your body a powerful reinforcement against one of the biggest threats to your health.

Reduce the immune-destroyer stress and you give your body a fighting chance. It's one of the most powerful ways to improve your immune system strength.

Author: Aiko Jin


[1] Department of Public Health Education. Research page. University of North Carolina website.
[2] Segerstrom S et al. Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: A Meta-Analytic Study of 30 Years of Inquiry. Psychol Bull. 2004 July; 130(4): 601-630.
[3] Hammit, L. Study identifies key player in the body's immune response to chronic stress. Press release from National Space Biomedical Research. September 2007.
[4] "A Functional Genomic Fingerprint of Chronic Stress in Humans: Blunted Glucocorticoid and Increased NF-κB Signaling" by Gregory E. Miller, Biological Psychiatry, Volume 64, Issue 4 (August 15, 2008)