P:(619) 287-4005

How Stress Affects Your Immune System

How Stress Affects Your Immune System

By: | Tags: | Comments: 0 | February 29th, 2016

Are you always getting sick, or maybe you know someone who struggles with a chronic immune issue? If you’re in a frequent state of stress, which often extends for long periods of time, your immune system is being suppressed! Ultimately, this stress is what leads to a compromised immune system.

Over the years, my patients would commonly tell me that they experienced a significant amount of stress prior to an illness, but they never seemed to see a connection. Instead they blamed it on a sick coworker or family member, or that “evil flu bug” that’s been reported as the “worst” in history. I also hear people say, “Sure I’m stressed. I have a lot of stress around me. What do you expect?”

But here’s the thing: Life will come at you. You’ll experience everything from constant high demands of your job to family stress and unexpected tragedies. The KEY to offsetting these high demands – also known as stress – is not about changing the world around you, at least not as your first priority. The primary focus is about changing something inside of you, specifically your psychology and physiology. But first, let’s first provide you with a better understanding of the stress and immune connection and why you get sick under chronic stress.

Here’s the premise: Cortisol , a stress hormone, suppresses antibodies. Antibodies are like the immune system’s military police.  They identify and neutralize those bad things like viruses and bacteria. If you continue to bombard the body with cortisol at high frequency, duration, and intensity, these protector antibodies become suppressed.

There’s also a flip side to this! When surgeons perform an organ transplant, they need to suppress the immune system for a period of time so that the body does not reject the organ. So what do think they use? They use steroids, which are an external form of cortisol, which is that stress hormone that we just talked about. This is because if the immune system isn’t suppressed, the new organ could get rejected. Now normally that’s a good response, but definitely not in this case when we want to get past the immune system to keep that organ functioning with the rest of the body.

When you get stressed chronically, it is directly suppressing your immune system. So what do we do to offset these high demands? You can move to a tropical island, but the only problem is that you take you with you. This true solution is to increase your recovery from those hits of stress.

Your job is always going to push you. The people around you will continue to hit those emotional buttons. That evil flu bug will come back every year – bigger, badder, and stronger! Even in my own personal practice, I can tell you beyond the shadow of a doubt that I will not get sick even though I’m around sick patients ALL day. The only time I begin to notice my body break down is when I’m not offsetting the high demands with recovery.

So what in the world does “recovery” mean? When I’m pushing real hard and feeling like I’m getting out of balance, I get honest with myself and do an internal check by asking myself, “Where in my diet and exercise am I lagging behind? Am I getting enough downtime and sleep? Am I holding any negative emotions about myself or others?” You may be thinking, “Really? Emotions?” Yes! What’s interesting is that the Chinese figured out over 3,000 years ago that one of the primary drivers of disease is chronic negative emotion. What’s even more interesting is that science is just now catching up to confirm this.

So do a quick check on yourself and be honest! Is your diet, lifestyle, and exercise interrupting those high demands (AKA stress) and supporting recovery?

There is so much information on this topic that it can get you even more stressed, which is not what we want! So where do we look to be most efficient? Well, I encourage you to look at time-tested strategies. Looking for the culture that has the longest health and longevity track record in history, you will see it to be the Chinese! Hands down. So how did they do it? Simple: they used their own medicine! The Chinese developed strategies to restore the body and activate recovery at the same time! What a concept!

These strategies include dietary, herbal, and nutritional therapy as well as restorative exercises such as tai chi, chi kung, and meditation. Not medication, meditation. What’s interesting is that we are now seeing more and more research validating how meditation can have a profound effect on interrupting the stress cycle and restoring health. This doesn’t mean you need to put on a robe and go to a mountaintop and chant. What we’ve done is extract why meditation works and developed exercises that can be incorporated into your daily life. See, there is a clear physiological change that occurs through these practices that’s worth investigating.

These are all the strategies that we utilize here at the Center for Integrative Care. But we go one more level! We utilize blood tests, hormone panels, and other diagnostic tests that your medical doctor would prescribe pharmaceuticals. Furthermore, when we provide nutrient cofactors (herbal and dietary therapy for immune issues), the strategy is different than that of a pharmaceutical. The primary and fundamental difference is that we are supporting your body’s immune response in withstanding and fighting that virus or bacteria. In other words, what we do is provide you the resources for your body to fight the fight! We don’t need to duplicate what pharmaceuticals do because what they do is very effective… but with potential side effects.

It’s essential to weigh the risks and the benefits. There are times when you need medication and there are times a drug-free option is the best way to go. However, more often in today’s world, we have the ability to use the best of both medicines.

Let’s discuss one more piece to this puzzle. When I say “immune response,” you’re probably only thinking of those outside bugs like bacteria and viruses. I also want you to think internal for a moment, as it relates to cancer cells. Your immune system also has what are called natural killer cells. When you suppress the immune response, those military police start to get suppressed as well. And when they get suppressed, they cannot manage cells that grow out of control and mutate. They also can’t manage cells that are supposed to die, which instead begin to mutate as well! So we want to not only think external, but also internal from a standpoint of how stress impacts the entire body inside and out.

Let’s say that you go to your doctor and get diagnosed with a condition. The condition produces symptoms. The condition and its symptoms are treated. Is that the end of the story? Well maybe, but most likely not, because the underlying cause of the condition has not been addressed. We don’t just want to get stuck at the level of treating symptoms and killing the body’s messenger. If you want to produce high levels of health, or if you simply don’t want to get sick, you MUST address the source of the issue.

In Chinese medicine, we go upstream and find out what drivers are throwing the entire system out of balance. We examine what physical, chemical, or emotional demands are bombarding the system. Consider asking yourself, “Where is my body not recovering? What key nutrients, herbal, and dietary therapy can build my body’s reserves? How can exercises such as chi kung, tai chi, and meditation restore my health and interrupt the stress response? How can acupuncture play a MAJOR role in stimulating natural killer cells, reduce cortisol output, and improve the absorption of nutrients to improve immunity?” These are very critical questions that need to be asked if you want to take your health to the next level.

If you would like to find out more about how we can assist you with your specific health concerns and how we can best integrate the use of science based natural medicine along with your current health care in a safe and effective way, contact our office at (619) 287-4005 to schedule a free consultation where we can answer any questions you have to find out if and how we can help you with your healthcare needs.

Leave a Reply