The effect of prolonged stress on the immune system

The effect of prolonged stress on the immune system

Headache, insomnia, loss of appetite – Chronic stress can manifest in many ways. The immune system also suffers when the body is under constant stress. Now researchers have found it.

Whether it’s work-related stress or problems in your private life: anyone under constant stress puts their health at risk – in the long run. A University of Southern California study has now shown that chronic stress not only aging the immune system, but also increases the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.

With age, the immune system weakens

Our immune system protects us from pollutants and pathogens. Defense cells attack potential pathogens and render them harmless. The innate and acquired immune systems work in tandem.1

And with age, the immune system weakens and it becomes easier for pathogens to invade the body. The reason for this, on the one hand, is the large number of already worn out white blood cells, and on the other hand, the small number of “new” defense cells circulating in the blood. There are age-related symptoms such as an increased risk of pneumonia, but there are also diseases such as cancer.2

Also interesting: How do you know you have a weak immune system?

Stress causes the immune system to age faster

But even in middle-aged people, the so-called immune aging is already visible. Scientists believe that chronic stress can be the cause of premature aging of the immune system.

To verify this, the research team examined 5,744 adults over the age of 50, took blood samples and asked them about various factors of social stress. These included:

  • daily discrimination
  • Stressful life events
  • Discrimination for life
  • shock
  • Chronic stress (eg work related)

The result: people who were exposed to more stress had a higher percentage of “used” white blood cells and fewer new cells. Biologically speaking, their immune system was older. This association remained evident even when different influencing factors such as education level, smoking status, alcohol consumption and body mass index were taken into account.3

Also interesting: Constant stress and mental illness can damage the heart

Bad diet and lack of exercise increase the effect

Another study finding: It is clear that chronic stress also leads to poor eating habits and lack of exercise. It is known that eating a balanced and healthy diet and exercising regularly can reduce stress levels.

In addition, diet and exercise habits can have a direct impact on the growth of immune cells. This is because T cells – an important part of the immune system – develop in the thymus gland, which is located behind the breastbone. However, as we age, the tissue in the thymus shrinks and is replaced by fatty tissue. There is a decrease in the production of immune cells. An unhealthy diet and lack of exercise can speed up this process – a vicious cycle.

It is also interesting that mistletoe tea helps relieve stress, insomnia and heart disease

Ways to reduce chronic stress

At the same time, a healthy lifestyle can help reduce stress and strengthen the immune system. Therefore, experts recommend paying attention to the following aspects:

  • Get enough sleep
  • provide relaxation
  • regular physical activity
  • A high-fiber diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Do not smoke

Applications that strengthen the immune system can also help counter premature aging. These include alternating showers and regular visits to the sauna.


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