Stress is a part of daily life. We experience it at school, work, in our social lives, at home, and even within ourselves. It can manifest in different ways for different people, one of which is through our immune system (1). Let’s understand the connection between stress and immunity in more detail.
Stress and immunity
Stress can strain our physical and psychological well-being, causing our immune system to work overtime. Regular experiences of stress can cause changes in appetite, energy, desires, and interests. It can also cause difficulty in concentrating, making decisions, and sleeping as well as nightmares.
Other effects include physical reactions (headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes); worsening of chronic health and mental health conditions; and increased use of tobacco products, alcohol, and other harmful substances (3). Hormone level fluctuation is the reason for acute stress. Stress hormones secreted by the glands complicate the body’s internal functioning, causing stress.
However, chronic stress, especially when not addressed, may have more serious stress and immunity-related consequences, as the emergency stress response system of the body kicks in as follows.
Effects of stress
Lack of appetite
Reduced appetite can eventually lead to being underweight, which can mean nutritional deficiencies and a weakened immune system (4). Stress can also lead to difficulty in sleeping. Lack of sleep negatively affects your immune system and your speed of recovery.
During sleep, your immune system releases certain proteins or cytokines. These cytokines are needed when you are fighting off an infection or when you’re stressed (5). Stress can cause increased muscle tensions and coordination issues and significantly slow down wound healing.
Stress can also lead people to alcohol abuse. While the jury is still out on how low to moderate alcohol consumption can affect the immune system, chronic and heavy drinking is generally known to weaken a person’s immune system (6).
Living in ‘the new normal’ has exposed most of us who began working remotely to different kinds of stress. The World Health Organisation (1), and the International Committee of the Red Cross (2) have released statements on how there has been an increased incidence of stress and immunity-related conditions during this time.
Mental health professionals have also studied the relationship of stress and immunity. One study showed that students’ immune systems would be negatively affected every year during their three-day exam period (7). Another study found that long-term stress which lasted for a few days to a couple of months or years led to all aspects of immunity dropping (7). Typically one can deal with acute stress or short term stress far better than chronic or long term stress (27).
Acute psychological stress influences immune function as natural killer cells that are meant to have an innate response to infections are compromised (28). The autonomous nervous system is one of the crucial routes that get activated by stress (29).
How to reduce stress
With stress and immunity so closely intertwined, it’s vital that we take the necessary steps to ameliorate the effects of stress on our bodies. Among the ways people can lessen stress is by taking breaks from consuming the news (or disconnecting from mainstream and social media), meditating, connecting with other people (while keeping in mind the social distancing and other health measures), getting plenty of sleep, exercising, and finding time to unwind (3).
In addition, you can also consider pairing your diet with vitamin and mineral supplements to improve your body’s stress and immunity interaction. The following are some of the stress supplements that are available to Australians today.
Supplements to help with stress management
This humble plant has been revered as a powerful medicinal herb in Indian Ayurvedic medicine as well as Western herbal medicine for its stress-fighting properties. Ashwagandha has been used as an adaptogen, a potent substance that helps the body adapt to stress.
Ashwagandha also contains a range of constituents, such as withanolides, sitoindosides, and other alkaloids that are responsible for its benefits in improving stress and immunity response (8). This herb helps the body cope with environmental stress, promote body adaptation to stress, support healthy body stress recovery, and relieve symptoms of stress.
Another major stress response in the body that has been observed to improve with the intake of ashwagandha is the control of cortisol levels. Cortisol is the body’s primary stress hormone and regulates our “flight or fight” response in stressful situations. When our bodies continuously produce too much cortisol for too long due to chronic stress, the hormone can compromise our immune system, highlighting the stress and immunity relationship (9).
This essential mineral and cofactor is highly essential in maintaining a healthy body11. At its worst, a magnesium deficiency is strongly related to the malfunctioning of specific and nonspecific immune responses. Without enough magnesium in our system, we may also be at risk for increased inflammation and infection (25).
Vitamin B complex
When it comes to stress and immunity, this group of B vitamins is responsible for supporting a healthy stress response in the body. Specifically, B5 (or pantothenic acid), paired with other B vitamins, helps restore our nutrient levels that are depleted when our bodies are put under the strain of responding to stress (14).
More studies also show that vitamins B1, B6, B5, and B12 together may strengthen our bodies’ adaptive stress response and minimise some of the systemic effects of chronic stress (15).
Calcium is essential in activating your immune system’s cells that are pivotal in appropriate stress and immunity response (16). By helping balance the immune system response, calcium helps ensure that our bodies ramp up immune response only when needed (such as in the event of infection, illness, or injury) and stays in equilibrium when our bodies are functioning normally (26). Calcium also acts as a messenger for many cell types, including lymphocytes (17), a kind of white blood cell that destroys invading viruses or bacteria and helps activate other parts of the immune system (18).
While you can get calcium from foods, such as milk, cheese, and common soy-based products, you can ensure to receive sufficient amounts of the mineral by taking supplements.
Ginkgo and Brahmi
Ginkgo leaf and Brahmi have been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. Ginkgo specifically has been shown to reduce symptoms of stress (20) and relieve mild anxiety (21). One study reveals how Ginkgo is effective in relieving acute stress by showing reduced stress indicators in tests (24). Heightened levels of fear, sadness, loss of emotional control, inability to calm down, social withdrawal etc can be grouped under the term psychological stress that tends to affect these acute conditions.
Brahmi on the other hand has also shown adaptogenic effects (22) while similarly reducing anxiety and promoting body adaptation to stress (23). Taken together, Gingko and Brahmi have rejuvenating properties essential in promoting health and immunity response.
It’s clear how stress and immunity are closely linked and how chronic stress can weaken your immune system. Stress is not something you can escape, but you can manage it more efficiently with the addition of vitamin supplements in your health regimen. Vitable Australia offers unique, custom vitamin subscription services in Australia that offer daily vitamin packs that can suit your immune-boosting needs. We also ensure secure vitamin delivery to guarantee that your personalised vitamin packs reach you safely. The entire experience is stress-free!
Find out more about other areas that the above supplements can help you with:
*Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional. Vitamin and/or mineral supplements should not replace a balanced diet.
- World Health Organization. “Mental health & COVID-19” Published (n.d.) on https://www.who.int/teams/mental-health-and-substance-use/covid-19 . Accessed on 12 September 2021.
- International Committee of the Red Cross. “COVID-19: Global pandemic may increase stress exponentially.” Published on 1 June 2020 on https://www.icrc.org/en/document/covid19-global-pandemic-may-increase-stress . Accessed on 12 September 2021.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Mental Health: Coping with Stress” Published (n.d.) on https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/stress-coping/cope-with-stress/index.html . Accessed on 12 September 2021.
- National Health Service UK. “Underweight adults: Healthy weight.” Published on (n.d.) on https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-weight/advice-for-underweight-adults/ . Accessed on 12 September 2021.
- Eric J. Olson. “I’m having trouble sleeping lately. Does this increase my chances of getting sick?” Published on 28 November 2018 on https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/expert-answers/lack-of-sleep/faq-20057757 . Accessed on 12 September 2021.
- Alcohol and Drug Foundation. “Understanding alcohol and the immune system during COVID-19.” Published on 11 May 2020 on https://adf.org.au/insights/alcohol-immune-system-covid-19/ . Accessed on 12 September 2021.
- American Psychological Association. “Stress Weakens the Immune System.” Published on 23 February 2006 on https://www.apa.org/research/action/immune . Accessed on 12 September 2021.
- K. Chandrasekhar, et.al. “A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults.” Published on July 2012 on https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3573577/ . Accessed on 13 September 2021.
- Mayo Clinic. “Chronic stress puts your health at risk.” Published on 8 July 2021 on https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037 . Accessed on 13 September 2021.
- S Douban, et.al. “Significance of magnesium in congestive heart failure.” Published on Sept 1996 on https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8800040/ . Accessed on 13 September 2021.
- Health Direct. “Magnesium and your health.” Published on (n.d.) on https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/magnesium . Accessed on 13 September 2021.
- Mohd, Razali Salleh. “Life Event, Stress and Illness.” Published on Oct 2008 on https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3341916/ . Accessed on 13 September 2021.
- Long, Sara-Jayne, et.al. “Effects of Vitamin and Mineral Supplementation on Stress, Mild Psychiatric Symptoms, and Mood in Nonclinical Samples: A Meta-Analysis.” Published on February 2013 on https://oce.ovid.com/article/00006842-201302000-00007/HTML. Accessed on 13 September 2021.
- Braun, L, et.al. “Herbs & Natural Supplements: An Evidence-based guide. Volume 2.” Published on 2015 on https://www.elsevier.com/books/herbs-and-natural-supplements-volume-2/braun/978-0-7295-4172-5 . Accessed on 13 September 2021.
- G.S. Kelly. “Nutritional and botanical interventions to assist with the adaptation to stress.” Published on Aug 1999 on https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10468649/ . Accessed on 13 September 2021.
- S. Grinstein. “Calcium homeostasis and the activation of calcium channels in cells of the immune system.” Published on Jan 1989 on https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1807782/. Accessed on 13 September 2021.
- Monika Vig, et.al. “Calcium signaling in immune cells.” Published on Jan 2009 on https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2877033/. Accessed on 13 September 2021.
- National Human Genome Research Institute. “Lymphocyte.” Published on (n.d.) on https://www.genome.gov/genetics-glossary/Lymphocyte. Accessed on 13 September 2021.
- Health Direct. “Calcium.” Published on (n.d.) on https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/calcium. Accessed on 13 September 2021.
- H. Woelk, et.al. “Ginkgo biloba special extract EGb 761 in generalized anxiety disorder and adjustment disorder with anxious mood: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.” Published on September 2007 on https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022395606001026?via%3Dihub. Accessed on 14 September 2021.
- Thalita Thais Faustino, et.al. “Medicinal plants in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder: a review of controlled clinical trials.” Published on Dec 2010 on https://www.scielo.br/j/rbp/a/3ySL59xfdNRSk6JPNrHBPhN/?lang=pt. Accessed on 14 September 2021.
- Naila Sheikh, et.al. “Effect of Bacopa monniera on stress induced changes in plasma corticosterone and brain monoamines in rats.” Published on 22 May 2007 on https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0378874107000438?via%3Dihub. Accessed on 14 September 2021.
- C. Stough, et.al. “The chronic effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi) on cognitive function in healthy human subjects.” Published on August 2001 on https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs002130100815. Accessed on 14 September 2021.
- Deepak Rai, et.al. “Anti-stress effects of Ginkgo biloba and Panax ginseng: a comparative study.” Published on Dec 2003 on https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14737017/. Accessed on 14 September 2021.
- Tam, M., et al. “Possible roles of magnesium on the immune system.” Published in Nov. 2003. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/9083950_Possible_roles_of_magnesium_on_the_immune_system Accessed on 15 September 2021.
- Williams, G. “Calcium Signals Balance the Body’s Response to Infection Against Potential for Self-Attack” Published May 31, 2016. https://nyulangone.org/news/calcium-signals-balance-bodys-response-infection-against-potential-self-attack Accessed 15 September 2021.
- https://www.afcurgentcarehixsontn.com/what-is-the-difference-between-chronic-and-acute-stress/#:~:text=Acute%20stress%20is%20also%20known,typically%20goes%20away%20fairly%20quickly. Apr 2019
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1361287/. Feb 2006.
- https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/body#:~:text=The%20autonomic%20nervous%20system%20has,%E2%80%9Cfight%20or%20flight%E2%80%9D%20response. Nov 2008