The Danger of Stress as Relates to Your Immunity

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A person’s overall life situation influences when a disorder first develops and the nature, duration, and prognosis of that disorder. Recovery is likely to be more rapid for a person who is eager to get back to work and to family than for the person who will be returning to a job that is frustrating or to an unpleasant family or home life.

Early studies that examined the association between stress and immune functioning rapidly established an association between stressful circumstances (like medical exams) and diminished immune reactivity. Such diminished immune reactivity would make a person more susceptible to infections.

Although individuals may react differently to stress, stress does have the ability of suppressing the immune system thereby leaving one vulnerable to an attack.The word immune comes for the Latin word “immunis” meaning “exempt”. The immune system protects the body against such things as viruses and bacteria.

If the immune system is too weak it cannot function effectively and the body succumbs to damage from invading viruses and bacteria. In the same way, if the immune system is too strong and unselective, it can turn on its own normal sells. This is the reason for autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

The white blood cells are at the front line of the immune system defense. Those cells are produced in the bone marrow and then stored in various places throughout the body, such as the spleen, and the lymph nodes. There are two type of Leukocytes (white blood cells).

The first, the B-cell, so called because it matures in the bone marrow, produces specific antigens (antibody generator). Antigens are foreign bodies such as viruses and bacteria as well as internal invaders such as tumors and cancer cells. The second type of Leukocyte is the T-cell, so named because it mature in the thymus, an important endocrine gland.

When the immune system is stimulated, both B-cells and T-cells become activated and multiply rapidly mounting various forms of counterattacks. T-cells circulate through the blood and lymph systems in an active form. Each T-cell has receptors on its surface that recognize one specific type of antigen.

To activate the T-cells, the macrophages (“big eater”) release a chemical known as interlukin-1 and the T-cells begin to destroy antigens. When a B-cell , different in structure from the T-cell, recognizes an antigen, it begins to divide and to produce antibodies that circulate in the blood.

Stress, depression and suppression of the Immune System

Stress does play a big part on the health of a person. One will notice that the tend to get sick more when they are stressed because their immune system is at its lowest. Research over the past 30 years has demonstrated a link between chronic stress and suppression of the immune system.

The most enduring stressors like unemployment have been associated with the most global immunosuppressant. One review of relevant research, showed a strong association between dysphoric mood and compromised immune function.

Another review found that depressed affect was reliably associated with lowered numbers of white cells following challenge by foreign protein, with lowered natural killer cell activity, and with lowered quantities of several varieties of circulating white cells (Herbert & Cohen, 1993).

A group of researchers has repeatedly demonstrated the compromise of white blood cells proliferation, including natural killer cell activity, among students undergoing the stress of academic examinations ( Glaser et al., 1985, 1987).

Stress has further been shown to slow the healing of wounds by as much as 24 per cent to forty percent (Kiecolt-Glaser et al., 1998). It is therefore important to deal with your stress before undergoing surgery to ensure healing is not compromised by the stress.

Stress, depression and increased Immune responsiveness

Researchers are beginning to pay attention to the possibility that chronic stress and depression may actually enhance certain immune system responses, although not in a good way. Chronic stress and depression may trigger the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as interleikin-6 (IL-6).

One study showed that women who were caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s disease had higher levels if IL-6 than women who were ether anticipating the stress of relocation or who experiencing neither of these stressors. These differences were found even when the women caregivers were 6-9 years younger than the women in the other groups. This is so despite the fact that IL-6 levels are known to increase with age.

Major depression has been linked to enhanced production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, including IL-6. Treatment with antidepressant medication helps in reducing this elevation. Research also links IL-6 with chronic illnesses including certain cancers and cardiovascular diseases. IL-6 is also associated with being overweight, smoking and having a sedentary lifestyle (Ferrucci et al., 1999).

Overall, what various research finding suggest is that chronic stress and depression can result in the immune system going out of balance in ways that may compromise health. So take care of your stress if you want a more healthful li


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