Can cognitive and physical stress make you sick? Unfortunately, yes. It is well understood that stress can manifest in the body as a headache, back or neck pain, clenched jaws, grinding teeth, stomach cramps, insomnia or even skin irritations such as hives. But on a more serious level, when you are stressed chronically or over a prolonged period of time, you can become more vulnerable to illness and disease, slow wound healing and hindered ability to recover from illness.
Our bodies are built to handle short term stress—which can actually be healthy in small doses—but stress that lasts for days can cause undesirable changes in the immune system leading to long-term problems.
When a stressful event occurs, it takes some time to get back into your normal routine. Whether the source of the stress is the death of a loved one or a car accident, it stays on our minds for a long while after the event is over. Over time, this continuous activation of the stress response may interfere with the immune system, which affects your disease risk and ability to recover from illness.
Stress and immune dysfunction
How can stress make you sick? Stress can cause many adverse health effects including:
- Premature aging
- Slow wound healing
- Increased risk of disease including cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and mental decline.
- Increased risk of infectious disease
- Increased risk of chronic inflammation
- Reduced immune response to vaccines
- Re-activation of latent viruses such as Epstein-Barr virus
Immune dysfunction and metabolism
Immune dysfunction can cause the body to use up its energy stores as it tries to keep the body healthy. When the immune system is not able to function effectively it can cause disruption of other body processes and systems, including your metabolism.
Immune dysfunction can become a major component of metabolic crashes. If an individual already has a slow metabolism, having poor immune function can be devastating.
When the immune system is down, symptoms of once-dormant infections can reactivate. Fighting viruses, bacteria and funguses diminishes your body’s valuable energy. As the body tries to fight these reactivated infections, the metabolism suffers.
Immune suppression response
Studies have shown that psychological stressors can have direct effects on immune cells, and can increase the number of cells and suppress immune function.
Immune suppression response has been observed in individuals with elevated heart rate and increased release of chemicals known as catecholamines during the stressors.
There are two types of stress responders, those who are “high reactors”, and those who are “low reactors”. High reactors are significantly affected by stress, as shown by a significant increase in heart rate, blood pressure, catecholamines, and stress cells. Low reactors show little or no change in those areas and will be more resistant to developing chronic stress and the resultant inflammation.
Catecholamines are chemicals produced by the body that work in nerve transmission. The three main catecholamines are dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine.
Dopamine raises the heart rate and blood pressure, epinephrine raises heart rate and opens blood vessels (lowering blood pressure), and norepinephrine closes blood vessels (raising blood pressure).
Epinephrine and norepinephrine are the catecholamines most commonly increased under stress. Increases such as these can suppress aspects of immune function, including natural killer cell (cells that attack antigens without having recognized them first) activity. In fact, changes in epinephrine levels are thought to reflect lymphocyte migration from bone marrow, the extremities, and the thymus to other areas of the body affecting the immune response.
A reduction in natural killer cells can affect the body’s ability to fight off infection and can allow viruses to reactivate and create further immune responses.
Managing chronic stress
When chronic stress starts to further involve the immune system, the energy crisis that this creates can cause some people to crash. This is a common factor associated with the diagnosis of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and many other disorders.
Because stress can impact many different facets of the immune system and cause many adverse health effects, finding healthy ways to keep stress levels down should be a top priority for many individuals. Healthy lifestyle habits that can help alleviate stress include:
- Proper nutrition
- Regular exercise
- Adequate rest
- Positive thinking
- Improve time management skills
- Maintain a healthy work-life balance
- Meditation, visualization or breathing techniques
- Maintain a strong social network
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Metabolix Wellness Center provides personalized, integrative healthcare for general wellness, anti-aging, athletic performance and weight management as well as more complex medical issues. In addition, our facility also provides aesthetic services and fitness training. Combining diet, nutrition and exercise with evidence based medicine and preventative therapies, our goal is to help our patients achieve and maintain a healthy, active lifestyle.
Metabolix Wellness Center utilizes IV therapy protocols from Trim® Nutrition. These proprietary nutrient injections are formulated by doctors and compounding pharmacists who use the highest quality materials and follow strict manufacturing protocols in a class 10,000 compounding facility.
Headquartered in Clearwater, Florida, Trim® Nutrition and Metabolix Wellness Center’s clinical staff of physicians, pharmacists, registered nurses, and research and development specialists are dedicated to the mission of Making Bodies Better™.