Stress and Your Immune System
Updated: Aug 31, 2021
Stress can be a daily part of life for many of us, whether it lasts for a few hours due to a specific event like studying for a test or for years due to an ongoing stressor like an abusive relationship.
All of us have dealt with the emotional stress through the pandemic this year. No matter the personal situation, we have all felt the hit at one time or another and it has been ongoing for many.
Stress can simply be a motivator to help accomplish a goal or task. However, it can also be completely overwhelming at times and simply does not give up. Whatever the situation, stress can really disrupt the immune system leaving you vulnerable.
How does stress affect the immune system and how can we minimize the effects?
We each have our own stress threshold which is the amount of stress our body can take on before we start to become ill. Thresholds vary from person to person, situation to situation, and are based on individual strengths, challenges, and personal history.
Once our threshold is reached, our body produces greater levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol can boost your immunity by limiting inflammation at first, but over time, higher levels open the door for more systemic inflammation. Stress increases the output of adrenaline, as well as cortisol, from the adrenal glands. These hormones inhibit white blood cell activity, which help fight off infection and cause the thymus to shrink. This causes a severe depression in immune function enhancing the risk for viruses, including the common cold. The level of immune suppression is usually in proportion to the level of stress.
Stress also stimulates the sympathetic nervous system (involuntary response to dangerous or stressful situations) and suppresses parasympathetic function (the ‘rest and digest’ system). This prevents the release of potent immune-enhancing compounds that are released during parasympathetic dominant states.
There is much research showing that our mood and attitude has an enormous impact on our immune system. The immune system naturally works better when we are happy and optimistic and of course depression depresses the immune system. There are many stressors that impact our health though.
Stressors that impact and suppress the immune system include:
· Pharmaceutical drugs
· Endogenous toxins (toxins from inside the body like bacterial toxins)
· Exogenous toxins (toxins from outside the body like food additives, artificial flavorings, food colorings, pesticides, insecticides, mercury and other heavy metals)
· Sleep deprivation
· Nutrient deficiencies (vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Copper, Iron, Zinc, Vitamin D, selenium, etc)
· Consuming transfat and rancid oils
· Functional disturbances of the GI Tract (leaky gut, food sensitivities, low gut immune)
· Intestinal dysbiosis (bacteria, viruses, fungal, and yeast infections)
· Hormonal imbalances
· Emotional and social factors
· Liver toxicity and poor detoxification
· Radiation exposure (microwaves, cell phones, radiation treatment for cancer)
· Dental infections
If the stressors are not identified and eliminated, chronic inflammation can accompany it and can contribute to the development and progression of many diseases of the immune system like arthritis, Fibromyalgia, Lupus, Psoriasis and other skin issues, and Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Other conditions connected to long-term stress include cardiovascular problems, gastric ulcers, Type 2 Diabetes, various cancers and mental decline.
What are the basics of supporting stress levels and therefore, immune system function?
Try to avoid suppressing stress! Here are ways to deal with stress:
1) Connect with a therapist, life coach, or health coach and talk it out. (I recommend connecting with Trauma therapist Sherry Williams - she is amazing)
2) Think about different stress management techniques that would fit into your daily lifestyle. Meditating for just 10-15 minutes 3-4 times a week reduces your cortisol levels and reduces inflammation. Research also shows it helps prevent the breakdown of your chromosomes that leads to cancer and premature aging. Practicing Yoga also lowers stress hormone levels and calms your nervous system to reduce inflammation. Deep breathing helps boost your resistance to infection (check out my blog on Breathing Techniques for Stress Reduction and Better Sleep).
3) Maybe it’s finally time to make some change to important lifestyle factors. Is it time to move, leave an abusive relationship, change careers? You have the ultimate choice of what your life looks like.
4) Spend time healing the gut. If you are experiencing gas, bloat, diarrhea, constipation, or any other digestive distress please look into setting an appointment to discuss how we can help.
5) Resolve nutrient deficiencies. Of course, pay attention to your food. Are you getting enough essential nutrients to support your body’s daily tasks? You can just look at your nails and tongue to notice nutrient deficiencies. Do your nails have white spots? Does your tongue have teeth indentations or cracks/grooves? Again, consider making an appointment. (Read the full blog post, Guide: How to Detect Nutritional Deficiencies, for more information.)
6) Keep a balanced blood sugar. Metabolic health is everything, and eating to support your blood sugar is optimal. See my post The Blood Sugar – Weight Loss Connection.
Of course, there are also natural supplements that can help support and optimize your body’s ability to deal with stress. They can be used daily, or during times when you could use the extra love and support.
My personal supplement favorites include:
1) Adrenotone – contains herbs and nutrients which rejuvenate the adrenal glands.
2) Phosphatidylserine or PS 150 – supports overall brain wellness and helps maintain healthy cortisol levels.
3) Inositol – a member of the B vitamin family, it supports overall relaxation and maintains proper metabolism of serotonin – the happy/content neurotransmitter.
4) PharmaGABA – a naturally occurring amino acid in the brain that serves as a critical calming agent for the body, helping to combat occasional stress and anxiety (the chewable form is good for children and teens).
5) StressArrest – a nice mix of B vitamins and amino acids that naturally promote a calm stress response.
6) Mood-Stasis – supports a calm and positive mental outlook as well as overall mood and cognitive function.
7) Catecholecalm – supports healthy catecholamine levels with adaptagenic herbs and nutrients that support mood and promote calmness and relaxation. Adaptagens mean they literally help support your body’s ability to deal with the world around you. The help you adapt to your environment.
8) NeuroCalm – promotes the activity of GABA and serotonin, which help support healthy mood, cravings, and feelings of calm, satiety, and satisfaction.
9) CBD – another adaptagen that helps bring your body back to homeostasis. I recommend Designs for health Cannab-FS (THC free).
10) Magnesium – has a very calming effect on the body and is nice to take before bed to help support a good night’s sleep. Both magnesium chelate or malate are nice forms. Or you can try Magnesium Optimizer which also has a small amount of the calming amino acid taurine.
If you are unsure of which supplement support would be best for you, contact me for more information.
Check out our online store for supplement purchases HERE.
Cleveland Clinic. (2020, June 29). What Happens When Your Immune System Gets Stressed Out? Retrieved December 15, 2020, from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-happens-when-your-immune-system-gets-stressed-out/
Weatherby, D. (2020). Insider's Guide: Treating Immune Dysfunctions. Retrieved December, 2020, from https://www.optimaldx.com/hubfs/pdf/insiders_guide_treating_immune_dysfunction.pdf