How does stress affect the immune system? We explain

How does stress affect the immune system? We explain

02 Mar 2022

How does stress compromise your body and mind? Here’s a piece to learn more about what stress may be doing to you.

The body’s stress response activates in the face of a perceived or actual threat. The hypothalamus, a small region in the brain, sets off an alarm system and activates a series of processes that end up releasing adrenaline and cortisol hormones (1).

While the process is usually self-limiting, some people experience prolonged activation of the stress response (1). Over time, chronic stress can take a heavy toll on the mind and body, making you more susceptible to diseases (1).

How does stress affect the immune system?

How and why does stress affect the immune system? Read on.

It increases inflammation

When you’re under stress, your body produces a surge of hormones, including cortisol. Also known as the stress hormone, cortisol limits certain functions that might not be essential in a fight-or-flight situation (2).

Examples of these possibly “non-essential” processes during stressful situations are the digestive, reproductive, and growth functions. Cortisol also alters the immune system response (2).

In short spurts, cortisol can boost your immunity by limiting inflammation (2). But over time, your body may start getting used to having too much cortisol in the bloodstream, paving the way for more inflammation. In the long run, sustained and excessive inflammation can overexert your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to health threats (2).

It increases vulnerability to immune disorders

Long-term stress and the immune system are also connected because stress increases the risk of various diseases.

Chronic or long-term inflammation can contribute to the development of immune disorders (2), namely:  

  • Arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Lupus
  • Psoriasis
  • Inflammatory bowel disease

It decreases lymphocytes

Stress affects the immune system as it decreases lymphocyte levels leaving your body defenceless to fight off infections.

Stress tends to decrease lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that wards off threats and fights off infections (2). When you have lower lymphocytes, you face a greater risk of developing diseases.

Fortunately, you can make positive choices to improve immunity. By eating a balanced diet, working out frequently, getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of fluids, and ditching unhealthy habits, you can strengthen your immune system. Managing your stress levels may also help support immune health.

Tips for stress relief

What can you do to decrease stress? Reducing your stress levels can support a healthier immune system response.

Talk to someone about how you feel (6)

Expressing feelings of stress with someone else may help lower cortisol levels. You may speak with a trusted family member or friend, or a mental health professional.

Get some sleep (6)

Making sure you get about eight hours of sleep, can help your body recover from the day's stresses. It also helps to go to bed around the same time every day, and to remove distractions that might prevent you from getting sleep, such as gadgets or drinking caffeine.

Meditation (6)

Meditation is a good way to center oneself and address symptoms of stress. Deep breathing. Taking just a few minutes to breathe deeply may help lessen the production of stress hormones, and lower one's blood pressure.

Supplementation

You may also consider mineral and vitamin supplements to optimize the effects of your healthy choices, including:

Zinc

Zinc supports the immune system in several ways (3). It also plays an important role in the development and normal function of some immune system cells, like the neutrophils and natural killer cells.

Iron

Like zinc, iron also contributes to immune function. Doctors have found that iron can have a direct effect on the growth and virulence of microbial pathogens (4). It has been reported that iron deficiency may be associated with increased susceptibility to infection in humans and animals (4).

*Iron should only be taken if prescribed by your doctor.

Astaxanthin

Astaxanthin has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may contribute to immune system function (7).

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha increases a person’s endurance to fatigue and calms the mind during stressful situations (8).

Probiotics SB

Some strains of probiotics have been found to be able to modulate the immune system (9).

B complex

Studies suggest that vitamin B deficiency may affect certain immune processes, indicating the biological role of these vitamins in fighting infection (10).

Vitamin C

Vitamin C or ascorbic acid is one of the best-known vitamins for immune function. This key vitamin improves white blood cell production and enhances the cellular function of the immune system (11).

Vitamin D

Vitamin D has been shown to modulate innate and adaptive immune responses. Doctors are studying the beneficial effects of vitamin D supplements for deficient individuals with autoimmune disorders (5).

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 acts as an immunomodulator for cellular immunity. An immunomodulator is a substance that modifies the immune system response in a beneficial way (12).

Fish oil

Fish oil contains omega-3, which reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. It lowers triglyceride levels (13).

Biotin

Biotin is a water-soluble vitamin that can provide unique support to the immune system. Studies show that biotin deficiency may be linked to immune cell function (14).

If you’re looking into vitamin and mineral supplements to boost immunity during stressful situations, Vitable got you covered. Our subscription vitamins are highly customizable to cater to your health needs and goals. Mix and match to have your vitamin packs in Australia. Our vitamin delivery service also ensures you get your custom supplements on time!

*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.

References:

  1. Mayo Clinic. Chronic stress puts your health at risk.  https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037
  2. Cleveland Clinic. (2017). What Happens When Your Immune System Gets Stressed Out? https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-happens-when-your-immune-system-gets-stressed-out/
  3. National Institutes of Health. (1998). Zinc and immune function: the biological basis of altered resistance to infection. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9701160/
  4. National Institutes of Health. (2010). Iron and immunity: immunological consequences of iron deficiency and overload. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3173740/
  5. National Institutes of Health. (2012). Vitamin D and the Immune System. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3166406/
  6. UC San Diego. (2020). https://extension.ucsd.edu/news-and-events/extension-blog/March-2020/7-Ways-to-Master-Stress-and-Boost-Your-Immunity
  7. Vitable. Astaxanthin. (n.d.). https://research.vitable.com.au/astaxanthin
  8. Vitable. Ashwagandha Plus. (n.d.) https://research.vitable.com.au/ashwagandha-plus
  9. Vitable. Probiotics. (n.d.) https://research.vitable.com.au/probiotics
  10. Vitable. B Complex. (n.d.)  https://research.vitable.com.au/b-complex
  11. Vitable. Vitamin C Plus. (n.d.) https://research.vitable.com.au/vitamin-c-plus
  12. Vitable. Vitamin B12. (n.d.) https://research.vitable.com.au/vitamin-b12
  13. Vitable.  Fish Oil. (n.d.) https://research.vitable.com.au/fish-oil
  14. Vitable. Biotin. (n.d.)  https://research.vitable.com.au/biotin