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Is Stress Destroying Your Immune System?

Mike Barrett
April 5, 2012

The serious impact of stress on the body should never be overlooked. Stress not only brings your overall happiness level down, but also plays a significant part in the development of illness and disease. Recent research shows how long-term stress can significantly compromise your immune system and increase your risk of contracting a cold. What’s more, the research helps to show what is widely known — that traumatic events in life often pave way for illness and disease.

Stress Compromises Immune System, Causes Vulnerability to Illness and Disease

Following the questioning of 176 men and women regarding difficult life experiences over the past 12 months, scientists dripped drops of the common cold virus into the noses of the participants. They found that those who were under stress were twice as likely to contract the cold than those not under stress. Additionally, cortisol, a stress hormone responsible for weakening the immune system, had a greater negative impact by causing persisting inflammation.


“The immune system’s ability to regulate inflammation predicts who will develop a cold, but more importantly it provides an explanation of how stress can promote disease…When under stress, cells of the immune system are unable to respond to hormonal control, and consequently, produce levels of inflammation that promote disease…Because inflammation plays a role in many diseases such as cardiovascular, asthma and autoimmune disorders, this model suggests why stress impacts them as well…Knowing this is important for identifying which diseases may be influenced by stress and for preventing disease in chronically stressed people,” researcher Professor Sheldon Cohen, of Carnegie Mellon University  said.

Needless to say, stress has been shown to compromise the body’s function in other ways as well. Disease can develop in numerous ways while under the influence of stress, and one such way is through the decline of gut health. This vital organ system is extremely vulnerable to both chronic and acute stress. Gastric secretion, gut motility, and barrier function can all be negatively altered from the presence of stress. Stress has also been shown to alter the composition of the microbiota — or the flora that resides within the gut, which could have to do with changes in neurotransmitter and inflammatory cytokin levels.

Seeing as stress has such an impact on overall health, it is important to keep stress levels down as much as possible. Perceiving everyday occurrences differently through the art of re-framing is a great first step to reducing stress, but you can also utilize many techniques to de-stress the brain for a happy and stress-free life.

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