Managing Stress and the Immune System

It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it. 

Lou Holtz

Medical experts have long suspected an important link between the immune system and stress. In recent decades, their suspicions have been confirmed through research. The body’s stress response, while meant to protect us in the face of danger, can actually wreak havoc on our ability to fight off illness and can even contribute to disease over a prolonged basis.

Fortunately, Cenegenics is here to help. While it’s not always easy to keep worries at bay — especially during uncertain times — we’ve pioneered the medical specialty of age management and are well-suited to help patients develop healthy coping mechanisms that will benefit their immune system. Discover our insights for tackling stress to improve immunity below.

The Link between the Immune System and Stress

When we experience stress, the brain sends defense signals to the endocrine system. In response, it releases a surge of hormones to prepare the body for fighting an emergency. On a short-term basis, this function serves us well: it allows us to react quickly and appropriately in dangerous or high-stakes situations.

Yet, this response also suppresses our immunity. It releases cortisol, which in turn decreases white blood cells and natural killer cells (special cells which fight tumors and viruses), leading to an increased rate of infection and tissue damage. Slight dips in immunity from time to time aren’t cause for concern, but when stress persists over a continual basis, its effects become cumulative and can significantly impact the immune system. [1]

Stress responses affect the body on many levels. For one, they impact the digestive system: adrenaline spikes caused by stress can create stomach ulcers, for instance. The stress response also increases the heart rate, straining the circulatory system and ultimately raising blood pressure. Over time, the elevated heart rate can result in an accelerated buildup of cholesterol, leaving individuals more susceptible to cardiovascular problems. [2] Clearly, stress and the immune system go hand-in-hand, and increased or prolonged exposure to stressors can have a domino effect on the body’s ability to fight illness.

While chronic stress is indeed dangerous, the harmful effects of stress can even manifest over a short period of time. In studying medical students, researchers have found that immunity dropped for students during a three-day span of exams. Not only did the students have fewer natural killer cells, but they nearly stopped producing immunity-boosting gamma interferon. T-cells, which fight infections, also showed a diminished response. [3]

It therefore should come as no surprise that stress is linked to a number of serious health conditions, including:

In fact, some experts believe stress could be responsible for up to 90% of illness and serious disease. [4] Left unaddressed, high stress causes sustained levels of inflammation, which has been linked to the progression of many immune system disorders including:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Lupus
  • Psoriasis
  • Arthritis
  • Inflammatory bowel disease [5]

Fortunately, there are ways to control stress, and thus, its effects on the immune system.

What Can You Do to Control Stress?

Businessman meditating in lotus pose

Since stress and the immune system will always be inextricably tied, the best way to prevent stressors from compromising immunity is to find healthy de-stressors. Here are a few practices to implement into your routine.

  • Meditate: Even if you’ve never tried it before, setting brief periods of time aside for mindfulness can help minimize stress and anxiety. According to research, 10 to 15-minute sessions of meditation practiced three to four times per week can reduce cortisol levels and inflammation, while also preventing chromosomal breakdowns linked to cancer and premature aging. [6]
  • Yoga: Another simple yet powerful stress-relieving practice, yoga reduces the levels of stress hormones in the body and eases the nervous system. It often incorporates deep breathing, which can actually improve your body’s ability to resist infections. Inverted poses, such as downward facing dog and shoulder stands, help to filter toxins from the body by circulating fluid through the lymphatic system. [7]
  • Social support: Research indicates people with strong social connections have better health overall and are better able to resist infections and diseases. [8] In studies, college students without established friendship circles showed higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol than their peers, and researchers identified a weakened immune response caused by loneliness. [9] Staying socially active, even if it’s just via FaceTime or phone calls, can help mitigate stress and its effects.

Of course, there are several other ways to minimize stress, including regular exercise, which can further boost the body’s immune system. Regular physical fitness can flush bacteria from the airways, reducing the risk of illness, and generate positive changes in antibodies and white blood cell levels. [10] Similarly, getting ample sleep and following a healthy diet can produce immune-boosting effects which could help to alleviate health-related worries, even if they don’t necessarily lead to immediate reductions in stress.

Importance of Stress Management – In Conclusion

Combatting stress should be a priority for all individuals, not only for its effects on mental health but to control its impact on our physical wellbeing, too. Here at Cenegenics, we not only recommend healthy practices for coping with stress, but we also prime the immune system for peak performance by taking a highly scientific approach to fine-tuning the body at the cellular level. Patients in our program have an advantage when it comes to avoiding and fighting off illness: their biological clock has been reversed and their body has been rebalanced to where it was in their 20s and 30s. As a result, they feel better within 30 to 60 days of starting the program — just see what they have to say on our Cenegenics review page.

We’re the “doctor’s doctor,” with 25% of our patient base comprising physicians and their family members. If you’re ready to see why so many experts trust us with their wellness, want to inquire about Cenegenics’ cost, or simply have questions about the program, don’t hesitate to contact your nearest location today.

Next Steps – Reinforce your Immune Health

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About the Contributor

Rudy Inaba Global Director of Nutrition & Exercise

Rudy Inaba is Cenegenics’ Global Director of Nutrition & Exercise. He is a recognized fitness and sports nutrition consultant with nearly 15 years of experience in clinical exercise physiology and lifestyle management. After pursuing his Master of Science in Clinical Exercise Physiology at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, Rudy joined Cenegenics where he leads 20 clinical locations nationwide in their advancements in kinesiology, nutritional biochemistry, and their analyses of industry research & market trending.

Key Resources

This guide was produced with contributions from the following key resources:

The Cenegenics Education and Research Foundation  

The Textbook of Age Management Medicine Volume 1: Mastering Healthy Aging Nutrition, Exercise and Hormone Replacement Therapy

Click to purchase

The Cenegenics Education and Research Foundation  

The Textbook of Age Management Medicine Volume 2: Mastering Healthy Aging Nutrition, Exercise and Hormone Replacement Therapy

Click to purchase

Textbook Authors:

Jeffrey Park Leake, M.D., CPT

Dr. Jeffrey Park Leake is a Partner and Director of Education at Cenegenics Elite Health specializing in age management and wellness. Having trained hundreds of physicians worldwide, Dr. Leake is also the Director of Education for the Clinical Strategies for Healthy Aging course at AMM Educational Foundation.

Todd David Greenberg, M.D., CSCS

Dr. Todd Greenberg is a practicing physician with a broad range of expertise, including wellness, exercise, sports injuries, and MRI of sports injuries. He is a Radiology Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Washington.

Additional Resources

Understanding Preventive Care: Age Management vs Anti-Aging

Youth is a Feeling – Not a Number

Why Can’t I Sleep? – Clinical Explanations

The Main Causes of High Cholesterol | Road Map to a Heart Attack

The Role of Vitamins and Minerals as Micronutrients

Cenegenics Elite Health Program: Why You Should Consider Age Management Your Next Investment

Causes and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

What Is Age Management Medicine?

References

[1] How Stress Affects the Immune System. Goliszek, Andrew Ph.D. Psychology Today. Derived from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/how-the-mind-heals-the-body/201411/how-stress-affects-the-immune-system

[2] Stress, Illness and the Immune System. McLeod, Saul. Simply Psychology. Derived from: https://www.simplypsychology.org/stress-immune.html

[3] See above. Derived from: https://www.simplypsychology.org/stress-immune.html

[4] See above. Derived from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/how-the-mind-heals-the-body/201411/how-stress-affects-the-immune-system

[5] What Happens When Your Immune System Gets Stressed Out? Cleveland Clinic. Derived from: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-happens-when-your-immune-system-gets-stressed-out/

[6] See above. Derived from: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-happens-when-your-immune-system-gets-stressed-out/

[7] See above. Derived from: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-happens-when-your-immune-system-gets-stressed-out/

[8] See above. Derived from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/how-the-mind-heals-the-body/201411/how-stress-affects-the-immune-system

[9] Stress Weakens the Immune System. American Psychological Association. Derived from: https://www.apa.org/research/action/immune

[10] Exercise and immunity. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus. Derived from: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007165.htm

  • Taslim Haq says:

    I found the above article very informative and useful on stress and its management. It is well documented that stress plays a major role in the weakening of our immune system thereby making a person susceptible to infections. In the current crisis of COVID-19, I am of the view that apart from stress & anxiety, fear is aggravating the conditions in corona patients. Too much fear causes excessive release of adrenaline coupled with stress & anxiety may cause blood clots/risk of thrombosis and aggravate respiratory difficulties (observed in corona positive patients) and other health issues.

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