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  • Dr. Heather Robinson, ND

The 'S' Word: The Impact of Stress on Your Immune System


Do you get sick more than you should? You take Vitamin C, echinacea, drink water, but still get multiple colds a year.

Stress. We all know the word, but really when it comes down to it, it is caused by different sources and manifests differently in each person. Generally, stress gets a bit of a bad rap, however it is absolutely necessary for survival; the fight or flight response, for example, is an acute state of ‘stress’ which allows our bodies to act or react most efficiently to ensure our survival (oh, there’s a bear, I should run). For the most part, people who will be reading this do not have reason to be in this survival mode very often. The problem is, is that many of us have simulated a constant state of being like this due to the nature of our society: the pressure from our jobs, school, phones, social media etc. We may not even realize that there is a low level of problematic stress constantly in our lives. There are COUNTLESS effects stress has on our bodies and minds, however this will focus on a few points of how it affects our immune system and what you can do to help keep yourself healthy and happy this season!


What Long-term Stress Does

In an acute (short-term) stressful situation, the physical release of neurotransmitters, hormones, peptides and inflammatory markers actually preserve the immune system. It is thought that over the course of evolution our body has learned to release these substances into our circulation to recruit our bodily systems to help defend. However, when these are constantly circulating in our body due to perceived constant threat, we see physical changes. Inflammatory mediators which are the ‘domain of the immune system’ have recently been demonstrated to be released into the body due to psychological stress. This can look like:

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep (circadian cortisol rhythm dysregulation). We all know how easy it is to get sick when our sleep isn’t up to par.

  • Frequent colds or flus (suppression of white blood cell distribution).

  • Reactivation of viruses such as herpes virus (ie. cold sores) and even progression of cancer.

How to Manage Stress to Get and Stay Healthy

  1. Meditation (refer to our Meditation App Review): There are studies that demonstrate there is a significant difference in the number of antibodies (what our immune system uses to defend us) between people who meditated for 8 weeks and those who did not.

  2. Adrenal gland support: Using botanicals such as Withania or Eleuthrococcus or vitamins such as Magnesium and Vitamin C, we are able to support the adrenal glands which are the main producers of cortisol”. Dose and form are important in their success, so book an appointment with an intern before self-prescribing!

  3. Getting good quality and quantity of sleep: This sounds obvious, but stress can effect sleep for many people; it is important because while we sleep well, our immune cells are able to differentiate and travel to appropriate places in our body to help our defense system. Refer to the previous article on Sleep for tips to a more restful sleep in a stressful environment.

Resources

1) Besedovsky, Luciana, Tanja Lange, and Jan Born. "Sleep and immune function." Pflügers Archiv-European Journal of Physiology 463.1 (2012): 121-137.

2) Davidson, Richard J., et al. "Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation." Psychosomatic medicine 65.4 (2003): 564-570.

3) Dhabhar, Firdaus S. "Enhancing versus suppressive effects of stress on immune function: implications for immunoprotection and immunopathology."Neuroimmunomodulation 16.5 (2009): 300-317.

4) Dhabhar FS, McEwen BS: Acute stress enhances while chronic stress suppresses immune function in vivo: a potential role for leukocyte trafficking. Brain Behav Immun 1997;11:286–306.

5) Kelley, K. W. "Stress and immune function: a bibliographic review." Ann. Rech. Vet 11.4 (1980): 445-478.

6) Marketon, Jeanette I. Webster, and Ronald Glaser. "Stress hormones and immune function." Cellular immunology 252.1 (2008): 16-26.

#Stress #sick #colds #immunesystem #naturopathicmedicine #adrenal #sleep #meditation #flu

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Disclaimer: Any information on this website is for informational purposes only and are not intended to be used in place of professional medical advice.

Always seek the advice of a qualified health care practitioner with any questions or health concerns you may have.

 

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