Have you been feeling a little more stressed lately? With all the changes, uncertainty, and fear in the last few months, many people are reporting an increase in stress. Today I want to talk about the stress and immune system connection.
Let’s discuss the stress response. Stress causes a release of our primary stress hormone called “cortisol”. Cortisol has a wide range of effects, including changes to our metabolism, immune system, reproduction, energy, sleep, and more.
When stress is acute or short-lived, our body has a pretty remarkable of adapting to help you better handle the stressor. A stressor can be a wide range of things – mental, emotional stress, biological or physiological stress, environmental stress, etc.
The problem comes when stress becomes chronic or poorly managed. Over time, this can lead to a dysfunction in the way cortisol is released from the body, resulting in a number of consequences.
Some signs and symptoms of cortisol dysfunction:
- Chronic lingering infections
- Insomnia – i.e. trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep
- Weight gain
- Brain fog
- Poor digestion – i.e. abnormal bowel movements, bloating, heartburn, etc.
- Reproductive concerns
Cortisol and your immune system
Cortisol directly communicates with your immune system. It is a natural anti-inflammatory agent and can suppress your immune system. However, in cases of cortisol dysfunction, the way cortisol is released into the body is no longer balanced. As a result, this can negatively impact your immune system.
Too much cortisol in the system can lower levels of white blood cells (the primary immune cells involved in combating infection). Too little cortisol can cause your immune system to swing the other way, and lead to inflammation or autoimmunity. With cortisol dysfunction, you can have fluctuations between too much and too little cortisol within a single day. Simply put – there is a direct relationship with your immune system and stress, and not in a good way.
3 things to support your stress response
- A systematic review of mindfulness meditation showed reduced inflammation markers and an increase in helper immune cells. It also showed an increase in telomerase activity, which slows down biological aging.
Digestion & Diet
- There is a direct relationship between your gut health and inflammation. (I talk more about this here.) A diet high in antioxidants (roughly ½ a plate of vegetables, with each meal), can help counter oxidative stress and inflammation. Additionally, limiting processed, refined foods can help limit external sources of inflammation.
IV nutrient therapy
- There are specific nutrients known to help the body modulate and rebalance the stress response.
- B vitamins have been shown to improve your body’s adaptive response to stress.
- Magnesium has been shown to attenuate cortisol in response to physical stress, as well as lower bedtime cortisol to treat insomnia.
- Vitamin C has also been shown to modulate and balance cortisol levels.
- IV Nutrient therapy allows us to custom formulate nutrients and also support the immune system. Vitamin C is the best-known nutrient. It has demonstrated antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant effects; an effective nutrient for immune support.
Stress is different for everyone, and managing stress can feel intimidating. Talk to one of the Acubalance docs on effective and sustainable strategies for you!
Dr. Ashley Damm,
Naturopathic Doctor – Vancouver, BC
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