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 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.
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).
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.
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).
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 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.