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Monday, August 14, 2017

Stress & Your Immune System

Science

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Though you may not be able to feel your immune system at work, without it you’d be in a world of trouble.

We are surrounded by billions of microorganisms (e.g., bacteria and viruses) that, if not for the immune system, would enter our bodies and wreak havoc by:

  • stealing nutrients,
  • releasing toxins, and
  • damaging cells or disrupting cell function.

Sick-woman

When functioning properly, the immune system is able to identify and remove these harmful invaders, keeping us healthy and functioning optimally. It is only when the immune system is invaded by a particularly strong infectious agent that we notice any signs of an encounter with these invisible creatures.

Though most of us are generally aware of things that we can do to keep our immune system strong, there is one thing that might be preventing your immune system from functioning at its best – OXIDATIVE STRESS. Stress from both internal and external sources has been linked to interrupted immune function.

How so?

High stress forces your body into a state of constant fight-or-flight which means that the stress-response system gets kicked into overdrive. This leads to unbalanced levels of stress hormones (e.g., cortisol) which has been shown to have a detrimental impact on immune function.

IMMUNE SYSTEM FUNCTION

As mentioned above, the immune system works to identify and remove harmful invaders from the body. Its goal – to keep you alive and healthy. The immune system is made up of many different types of cells that are located all throughout the body, each working in a unique way to provide protection. Listed below are key players of the immune system and their functions.

  • White blood cells – attack and destroy bacteria, viruses, or other harmful organisms
  • Tonsils and thymus – make antibodies
  • Lymph nodes and vessels (lymphatic system) – trap bacteria, viruses, and other foreign substances which are then destroyed by white blood cells or lymphocytes
  • Bone marrow – produces white blood cells
  • Spleen – contains white blood cells that destroy bacteria and other foreign substances
  • immune-system-functionSeek out invaders (i.e., germs) or body cells that are different from normal healthy cells.
  • Clean up damaged white blood cells.
  • Produce antibodies which attach themselves to the invaders and destroy them.
  • Seek out body cells that are different from normal healthy cells and destroy them.

Other less obvious components of the immune system include the skin, nasal hairs and enzymes found in your sweat and saliva. Think of these mechanisms as the alarm system, acting as the first line of defense to ward off germs. The other key players listed above are the backup system, offering further protection if any germs are able to get past the first line of defense and enter the body.

STRESS & YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM

As most of us know, the higher our stress levels the less likely we are to feel our best. But why?

If you remember from the Stress & Your Health blog post, the cells in your body work best when the environment surrounding them is kept constant. Stress (from either external or internal sources) disrupts the environment around the cells and, if not kept to a minimum, can challenge the body’s ability to correct the disruption. This places the cell under stressed conditions (i.e., OXIDATIVE STRESS) which can interrupt their ability to function normally. Over time, cell malfunction leads to a disruption of entire body systems which impacts your ability to function normally.

In this case, high stress loads may negatively impact your immune cell function which can eventually restrict optimal performance of the immune system. 

stress-and-your-immune-system

 

BOOSTING YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM

Maintaining a strong immune system is essential for health and well-being. Here are some strategies to maintain a healthy immune system:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Get adequate sleep
  • Wash hands frequently
  • Keep your stress levels in check
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