Is Stress Making You Sick?

How Chronic Stress Can Affect Your Immune System

If you are like most of us, daily stressors are part of modern life. For some, daily stress becomes chronic stress, and starts to affect overall health. You may notice that you catch every cold going around the office and suffer from more aches and pains. Stress has been implicated in causing a deficient immune system. Scientists know that psychological stress can affect the immune system, the body’s defense against infection and disease including cancer. When we are stressed, our bodies go into a stress response, a fight or flight reaction, and – if prolonged – the body will shut down the non-essential bodily functions such as the immune system. During a stressful situation, our immune system is not considered important for survival.

When we are exposed to stress over a period of time, be it emotional, physical, environmental or nutritional stress, our body sends out stress hor­mones. Stress can have negative effects on several immune factors such as interleukin-6 (IL-6) an inflammatory immune factor that causes inflamma­tion, pain, swelling and an exacerbation in autoimmune diseases. IL-6 also causes calcium loss from the bones heading to osteoporosis and osteoarthri­tis. Researchers have found that prolonged stress can also be associated with up to 50 per cent reduction of NK (natural killer cells). NK activity plays a vital role against viral infection and chronic disease. Similarly nerve growth factor (NGF) is increased in people who are under stress and NGF inhibits the ability of disease-fighting cells to ward off infection.

Prolonged stress with all of the chain reactions in the immune system can cause acute reactions such as cold or flu, inflammatory conditions or more chronic diseases. Stress hormones as well as psychological factors such as feeling help­less or suppressing negative emotions, can affect the growth and spread of disease.


HEALTH TIPS FOR THE IMMUNE SYSTEM

Foods that Harm, Foods that Heal

Sugar is one food that should come with a warning label stronger than that found on cigarette packages. Sugar causes our Natural Killer cells (NK cells) to become inactive. As little as one teaspoon of sugar shuts off NK cells for up to six hours leaving us vulnerable to infectious disease or cell mutations. While sugar is toxic to the immune system fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds optimize it. Organic foods over pesticide laden foods should be chosen as much as possible and fresh wild fish, lean free-range chicken and turkey, along with a mild to moderate intake of grass fed red meat and purified water should make up the bulk of our diet.

There are also vitamins, minerals and herbs that can help support your immune system and stress response including my top recommendations below:

  • Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that protects against infection, enhances immunity and supports adrenal function and stress. Vitamin C works by increasing the production of white blood cells and antibodies, which both help fight off infection. Typical dosages start at 1000 mg daily but can be increased depending on bowel tolerance. Some Vitamin C sources include citrus fruits, strawberries, papaya, kiwi, broccoli, red pepper and Brussels sprouts.
  • Probiotics are the “good” bacteria that work in the intestinal tract. They fight pathogenic infections and promote recovery from infections by stimulating the production of antibodies.
  • Zinc is the most important immune mineral as it helps to prevent a weakened immune system. Studies have shown that a zinc deficiency can impair a number of white blood cells and platelets (blood cells involved in clotting), and can increase susceptibility to infection.
  • Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin has powerful immune boosting, anti-inflammatory and bone supportive properties.
  • Echinacea has been used for centuries by European healers and Native Americans and is frequently combined with other immune-boosting plants such as goldenseal. Ongoing research shows that Echinacea’s active constituents stimulate the immune system to fight viral infections. It is also recommended in cases of laryngitis, cold sores, tonsillitis, and sinusitis.
  • Elderberry is often used for its antioxidant activity, to boost the immune system, to improve heart health and for coughs, colds, flu, bacterial and viral infections.
  • Adrenal/Stress Busting Herbs are important for strengthening the stress response and in turn strengthening the immune response and resilience against infection. Choose formulas that include herbs such as: Rhodiola, Holy Basil, Ashwagandha, Siberian ginseng and/or Schizandra.
  • Oil of Oregano is a favorite among many of my patients at the first sign of a cold or infection.

Dr. Marita Schauch, ND

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