“Excessive stress, either physical or mental, has a detrimental effect on the optimal functioning of the immune system. It is like the card that finally tips the balance on the house of cards, bringing everything crashing down.
An immune system that is in top operating order will only be minimally affected by small causes of stress, yet that same system can be toppled by a big causes of stress such as the death of a loved one. Conversely, even small causes of stress can be too much for a weakened immune system.” Patrick Bouic, Ph.D. "The Immune System Cure"
Stress has surpassed the common cold as the most common health problem in North America according to many physicians.
Causes of Stress Big and Small
Big causes of stress are pretty easy to recognize like job loss, illness and death of a loved one. But, smaller causes of stress accumulate and are things like noise, crowded cities, driving, school, feeling trapped, trying to be perfect, disliking your job, a bout of the flu; the list is almost endless. People feel stress differently. It’s very individual. What causes stress to one might not bother someone else at all. Stress has been called the number one universal health factor contributing to major disease.
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Stress & Immune system focus: stress facts, causes of stress, symptoms of stress, how stress affects the immune system
Stress Problems & The Immune System
- People like to ignore it but stress is a big deal. In our society it can be unrelenting. Stress can come from both physical and emotional sources. Illness is stressful for example. Stress affects the hormone cortisol produced by the adrenal glands.
- In small quantities cortisol is helpful. It’s anti-inflammatory, speeds tissue repair and controls excess immune cell production.
- Continued stress raises cortisol levels. Cortisol slows the production of “good” prostaglandins. Prostaglandins (localized hormone like cellular messengers) are derived from essential fatty acids like fish oil. “Good” prostaglandins support immune function, dilate blood vessels, inhibit “thick” blood and are anti-inflammatory. Slowed production allows for the opposite - inflammation, immune suppression, etc.
- During a period of raised cortisol (from stress), immune system cells disappear from the blood. The part of the immune system most sensitive to increased cortisol levels are the Natural Killer Cells. Immune system function will plummet.
- As adrenals become fatigued, the production of cortisol and other hormone levels will fall. Lower levels of cortisol will allow immune system cells to circulate in excess.
Stress and Adrenals
What does stress actually do? Stress affects the adrenal glands among other things. In fact that is the purpose of adrenal glands; to help you deal with stress from every possible source (psychological, environmental, infectious, physical, emotional, etc) and survive. The adrenal glands produce a number of different hormones that influence virtually all of the major processes in the body.
The Importance Of Adrenal Gland Hormones
“They closely affect the utilization of carbohydrates and fats, the conversion of fats and proteins into energy, the distribution of stored fat (especially around your waist and at the sides of your face), normal blood sugar regulation, and proper cardiovascular and gastrointestinal function.
The protective activity of anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant hormones secreted by the adrenals helps to minimize negative and allergic reactions to alcohol, drugs, foods and environmental allergens.
After mid-life (menopause in women), the adrenal glands gradually become the major source of the sex hormones circulating throughout the body in both men and women…Every athlete knows that muscular strength and stamina are acutely affected by the adrenal hormones, more commonly known as steroids.” James Wilson, N.D., D.C., Ph.D.author of Adrenal Fatigue, The 21st Century Stress Syndrome
What is Stress?
One scenario of what happens in an alarm stress “reaction” might be as follows: Something happens; you’re attacked by an elephant, or almost hit by a truck, or your boss is angry. Your adrenals have an “alarm” reaction often called the “fight or flight” response. It’s your body’s response to challenge or danger. Increased adrenal hormones are released that cause your heart to beat faster, your breathing increases, your cortisol levels rise which gives you more energy, muscle tension increases, your digestion shuts down, and more.
This is great for situations that require a physical response, like lifting a car or jumping over small mountains. The response however gets stifled in the office where “fight or flight” wouldn’t be appropriate (this is a problem). The alarm stage is usually short lived lasting a few minutes to a few hours. Thereafter it could be followed by a recovery period lasting 24-48 hours.
During this period hormone levels drop, you feel tired and your body is less able to respond to stress. What if there are additional causes of stress lurking about? What if the stress doesn’t go away? Your body can continue to fight the stressor and others long after the initial effects. It could last for months or even years. The hormone largely responsible for it is cortisol produced by the adrenal glands.
Some Signs of Stress
[according to Dr. Anthony Cichoke]
Drinking soft drinks
Weak or shaky between meals
Need to be more assertive
Bothered by noise
Can’t make decisions
…and many others