Stress Lowers Immunity

A 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.

The parents of cancer patients, even when given a synthetic glucocorticoid hormone which would normally raise cortisol levels and halt the inflammatory process continued to experience increased production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. The authors concluded, Findings suggest a novel pathway by which chronic stress might alter the course of inflammatory disease.

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Miller GE, Cohen S, Ritchey AK. Chronic psychological stress and the regulation of pro-inflammatory cytokines: a glucocorticoid-resistance model. Health Psychol. 2002 Nov;21(6):531-41.

Adaptogens, a class of herbs, help the body support healthy cortisol levels. An example of some powerful adaptogens are Siberian Ginseng, Manchurian Thorn Tree, Hawthorn, Echinopanax Elatum and Schisandra (as in VRPs AdaptaPhase I).

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