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Is stress making you sick?

Is Stress Literally Making You (Or Your Patients) Sick?

Posted Sep 13, 2018

Patients who are continually sick with infections are likely experiencing long-term stress. Stress affects the whole body and the immune system is particularly affected by chronic low-grade stress. In fact, stress-related problems are the root cause of 75-90 percent of doctor visits.

Most people today associate stress with worry, but stress has a much broader meaning to your body. Patients may not realize how much stress their bodies are actually experiencing. Any kind of change, whether it be emotional, physical, environmental, hormonal or illness-related can be stressful to your body. Just generally striving too hard on a daily basis takes a physiological toll. Even positive events, such as getting a promotion at work or taking a vacation, can be stressful and can gradually weaken health without the person realizing what is happening. If your patient has recently experienced a change in sleep patterns, feels fatigued, anxious, lacks enjoyment for life, or has multiple aches and pains, it is highly likely that they are overstressed.

Research by Dr. Hans Selye, the first scientist who discovered that stress actually made people sick, found something quite amazing: animals that were simply restrained died quicker from stress than animals that were physically injured. How does this relate to humans? Examples of people who may feel constrained are new mothers, and anyone stuck in an unhappy relationship or unfulfilling job. The same goes for the teacher trying to teach a class of unruly students, or the air traffic controller with too many decisions to make under high pressure. These high pressure, high stress situations often leave people feeling trapped with no escape.

Research has found that psychological stress in human beings can take a hefty toll on the immune system by altering the immune activity of proteins like cytokines and interleukins. Immune cell generated cytokines, proteins that regulate the body’s response to disease and infection, are reduced during psychological stress, while interleukin-6 (IL-6), an immune-system protein that promotes inflammation and has been linked with heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, severe infections and certain cancers, is elevated. It appears that stress increases levels of IL-6, which in turn accelerates a variety of age-related diseases.

Stress increases chances of an infection

In one study, skin wounds on the arms of women who had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol had lower levels of key compounds released by the body to mediate healing. This means stress may make it easier for germs to infect skin wounds. In another study, investigators created skin wounds in mice exposed to stressful living conditions. The researchers then applied Streptococcus bacteria to the wounds and compared the healing rates of the stressed mice with those of unstressed mice with similar skin wounds exposed to the bacteria.

Mice that had been stressed prior to wounding and infection showed a 30% delay in wound healing at 3 and 5 days compared with the mice that were not stressed. In addition, the investigators found that after 5 days the stressed mice had 100,000 times more opportunistic bacteria in their wounds than the non-stressed mice. Seven days after the bacteria exposure, about 85% of the wounds in the stressed mice were infected, versus about 27% of the wounds in the non-stressed mice. In this study, stress increased the rate of wound infection by threefold. Stress disrupts the body’s equilibrium, which significantly impairs its ability to control and eradicate bacterial infection during wound healing.

Stress changes immune system makeup

Psycho-neuroimmunology studies the effects of psychological stress on the immune system. Scientists in this area have demonstrated alterations in the normal function of immune cells in animals during times of stress. For example, excessive physical stress changes the immune cell profile. Increased upper respiratory tract infections occur in athletes who over-train, and a decreased cell-mediated immunity has been demonstrated in such athletes. Without a properly functioning immune system, the body is vulnerable to invasion by opportunistic germs such as fungi, viruses and bacteria.

Reduce (and better manage) stress to stay well

Relaxation techniques can be useful when stress becomes overwhelming. Yoga, a psycho-physical discipline, can lead to mental clarity, greater self-understanding, and a feeling of well being, along with improved physical fitness. Many people experience benefits not only because of the physical stretching and muscle strengthening but also because of the meditative state that is encouraged. Yoga and tai chi are both wonderful ways to reduce stress.

Meditation is another technique that calms the mind and fights stress by focusing thoughts on relaxing images or principles and providing self-reflective insight into what activities are contributing to the stress load.

The bottom line is that stress shuts down either the recruitment or the function of those immune cells needed to fight infection. Dr. Wilson’s Adrenal Fatigue Protocol can significantly help by promoting homeostasis during stress and adrenal fatigue to support healthy immune function. This highly effective protocol along with the correct dietary and lifestyle changes as outlined in Dr. Wilson’s ground breaking book entitled Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome  can offer your patients the greatest chance of overcoming stress before it takes control and ruins their health.