Stress Lowers ImmunityA new study in humans indicates that stress can wreak havoc on the immune system, leaving the body vulnerable to diseases.
Researchers studied 25 stressed subjects to determine the effects of stress hormones on white blood cells. The subjects were parents whose children were undergoing cancer treatment. They compared those subjects to 25 parents of healthy children.
In stressed subjects, the white blood cell response was reduced, compared to less-stressed parents of healthy children. Under normal conditions, white blood cells release cytokines, proteins that trigger inflammation, a process that fights infection. However, if this infection-fighting, inflammatory process is left unchecked, the release of cytokines and inflammation can be destructive. Therefore, the body normally stops the inflammation by releasing cortisol, a stress hormone.
The stressed parents in the study did not respond well to
cortisol, so their cells continued to produce cytokines.
Therefore, inflammation continued out of control in their
bodies. Interestingly, stressed parents who were surrounded by
supportive family members or friends exhibited an immune
response similar to that of the non-stressed parents.
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