How stress can affect your immune system?
Many people feel stressed in their daily lives for all kinds of reasons. From work stress to stress at home, this is a common condition that if left ignored can overwhelm you.
Stress affects your body in different ways. You might not even realise you are suffering from stress and just coping with life. As well as the impact stress has on your general health stress can affect your body’s ability to fight infections and illness. But how much does stress affect your immune system?
This article gives an insight into the links between stress and the immune system and gives you some tips on what you can do to keep your immunity in top shape.
How can stress affect your immune system?
Research has shown that stress can affect your immune system and can make you ill. Stress induces excess secretion of the hormone cortisol by the adrenal glands. High levels of cortisol can stress the immune system and reduce its ability to fight infections and disease.*
Cortisol is essential for maintaining many functions of the body, however, when the levels become out of balance you can become ill.
Cortisol affects the body by:
- Regulating your body’s response to stress. When too much cortisol is released into your bloodstream you feel panic and the ‘fight or flight’ reaction.
- Causing inflammation as a reaction to stress.*
- Increasing and controlling blood sugar. But increased levels can make you susceptible to type-2 diabetes.
- Regulating blood pressure. But can cause high or low blood pressure if your cortisol levels are not balanced.
- Controlling the metabolism. This is how your body uses proteins, carbohydrates and fats to produce energy.
Known as the stress hormone, stress can trigger your body to release too much cortisol and affect both the immune system and other functions, as can be seen above.
What are the signs of stress weakening your immune system?
Do you tend to get ill after a stressful event? Perhaps you catch colds more often than normal, are prone to coughs or often have an upset stomach. This is a sign of stress and immune suppression. Your body works hard to prevent you from being ill, but your immune system is weak because of the stress you are experiencing. Other physical signs of stress-induced immune dysfunction include:
- Feeling fatigued or tired all the time. Even if you get enough restful sleep you still feel tired when you wake up in the morning and throughout the day. You have no energy and find doing simple tasks difficult.
- Wounds taking a long time to heal. Usually, the immune system helps to repair a wound by decreasing the chance of infection and healing the skin. However, if your immune cells are not healthy your skin will take longer to regenerate.
- Having frequent infections. If you suffer from ear or eye infections or sinusitis regularly your immune system may be weak. This also applies to respiratory infections from colds and flu to pneumonia.
Does stress reduce the immune system’s fight against allergies?
There is evidence to show that stress can provoke allergies*. It does not actually cause them, but when you feel stressed the body releases a chemical called histamine. This makes allergy symptoms such as sneezing, watery eyes and itching worse.
The longer the symptoms continue the weaker your immune system becomes as it is constantly battling with these invaders that are attacking your cells. Allergies are one of the effects of chronic stress on the immune system.
Allergies come from harmless substances such as pollen, pet hair and dust. When you have an allergic reaction to these your body is unable to cope with them entering your system and so you feel ill. This can be a vicious circle as the worse you feel the more stressed you can get, especially if you have to keep going and don’t have time to rest.
How to boost your immune system to fight stress-related immune disorders?
If you are suffering from any of the above you may have a weak immune system, particularly if you are prone to stress. We all know it’s not that easy to de-stress and forget the things that are worrying us, indeed sometimes the causes of stress are unavoidable.
However, you can do your best to protect your immune system and look after your health and well-being in several ways. These include:
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. If you are vegetarian or vegan you may not be getting enough vitamins and minerals to support your immune system, so you could consider taking a supplement.*
- Including products that contain Lactium® in your diet. Lactium® is a natural milk protein that can gently help your body to alleviate stress.
- Taking regular exercise, even if only a brisk walk or short cycle ride each day.
- Getting enough quality sleep. This means going to bed at a regular time and not looking at screens or drinking alcohol for at least an hour beforehand.
- Reducing your alcohol consumption.
- Giving up smoking.
You should also try to limit your exposure to stress. If you know you are going to be faced with something or someone that causes you stress try and avoid the situation. Whilst this may not always be possible, for example, if you are caring for a loved one or experiencing stress at work you should look at how you could reduce the stress.
Just taking half an hour for yourself during the day can help you feel more in control of your life. And if you are suffering from stress at work, which many of us do, take a look at what is causing it and how you could change things.
In summary, the answer to the question, ‘does stress lower the immune system’s ability to fight illnesses?’, is yes. We can see that stress hormones and immune function are very closely related and looking after yourself and your health is one of the key ways to build your immune response to stress.