Researchers agree that emotional stress has a dramatic effect on your immune system, making you more prone to disease and disorders.
Women are particularly susceptible to stress which in part is linked to hormonal changes. During puberty, menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause your hormone levels fluctuate consistently (or inconsistently) and cause stress.
It has been clearly shown that emotional stress is a major role in triggering and worsening, depression, cardiovascular disease, some (e.g. viral) cancers and infectious disease.
Stress boost production of natural anti-inflammatory compounds (glucocorticoids) which inhibit the synthesis of fats in the skin and decrease the secretion of antimicrobial peptides, which initiates dermatological conditions such as itchy skin and rashes.
Often people feel the effects of stress as fatigue, various aches and pains, headache, or as emotional disorders such as anxiety, depression and sleep disturbances. Gastrointestinal disorders such as colitis and irritable bowel syndrome also show clear signs of being linked directly to emotional stress.
Lowered immune system response lead to more frequent colds and infections as well as being linked to exacerbating of the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue and fibromyalgia (which many people believe are the same illness).
What is happening?
To understand this cycle a little more we need to visit the cells. Every cell contains a tiny clock called a telomere, which shortens each time the cell divides. Short telomeres have been linked to diseases such as HIV, osteoporosis, heart disease and aging. The telomerase enzyme within each cell keeps immune cells young by preserving their telomere length, and their ability to keep dividing. People with chronic stress have shortened telomere length.
The stress hormone cortisol suppresses immune cells’ ability to activate telomerase. Under stress the adrenals boost production of cortisol to support its flight or fight response.
Short term stress actually improves the immune system (a good exercise workout may be one example of this) in preparation for body injuries or infections. BUT long-term stress or chronic stress breaks the system down. When the stress hormones are preparing for battle, the energy is drawn from the immune system, and white blood cell production is temporarily suppressed.
The Good News is
People under stress who know how to deal with it emotionally actually have more immunity than people who have low stress levels but poor coping skills.
Developing your coping skills, changing your response, removing the stressor, and exploring how you cope with your stress and how you can adjust for healthier outcomes are just some of the methods successfully used to improve stress and health.
Katherine Sabathie BHSc. ND. LC
Naturopath Well-being Coach
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