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Confirmed: Stress Does Cause Premature Immune Ageing

Stress is more than just a mental health problem. The new research suggests stress may weaken the body’s immune cells. Read on to learn how stress might be affecting your immunity.

By Sadhana Kumari
24 Jun 2022

Stress is a part of daily life and is normal until experienced daily. According to a 2020 research paper issued in the journal Science, 7 out of 10 Indians experience stress at work every week which is more than average of sixty per cent in the Asia-Pacific. Everyone has distinct stress triggers that make them frustrated and anxious. At times, stress can serve a useful purpose, for instance when it motivates you to get a promotion at work, or pushes you to go that extra mile.


However, not handling stress well can seriously interfere with health and may deplete the body’s mix of immune cells. As per the 2021 study mentioned in Translation Psychiatry, people with post-traumatic stress disorder may have lower immunity that can make them more prone to diseases like cancer or and heart-related diseases and illnesses from infections such as COVID-19.


Related story: Signs of Chronic Stress And How To Tackle It


What causes premature immune ageing?

According to a 2022 study published in Science Daily, researchers from University of Southern California conducted a survey on 5,744 adults over the age of 50. A questionnaire was drafted to evaluate participants’ experiences with social stress, including stressful life events, chronic stress, everyday discrimination, and lifetime discrimination. Their blood samples were analysed and it was found that participants with higher stress scores had older-seeming immune profiles, with lower rates of white blood cells. The relationship between stressful life events and less-responsive T-cells remained strong even after controlling lifestyle, diet, and nationality. T-cells are part of the immune system that helps the body fight foreign threats. It develops in a gland called the thymus, and when immunity weakens, fatty tissues form leading to lower production of immune cells.


Related story: Ways To Tame Stress And Make It Empower You


How does stress impact health?

The body’s immune system is sensitive to psychological stress. This means that your body will know when you are stressed or anxious about an event. Here are some relations between stress and health factors.


1. Stress and wound healing: Wound healing is a long process of recovery from an injury. Cellular immunity is important to regulate healing through phases of inflammation, proliferation, and regeneration of the skin cells. Stress disrupts the production of proinflammatory cytokines that are essential for wound healing, delaying wound repair, says 2019 research issues in Stress Challenges and Immunity in Space.


2. Stress and pathogens: Immunity is the natural tolerance to avoid allergies, bacterial or viral invaders, autoimmune diseases, or infections. Stress suppresses the body’s resistance to pathogens or disease-causing agents and increases the rate of infection. A 2019 meta-analysis published in Stress Challenges and Immunity in Space concluded that anxiety and depression are common in people infected with influenza virus, HIV, Herpes, or COVID-19. Also, they have lower T cells which help fight threats in the body.


Related story: Everything You Need to Know About Norovirus


3. Stress and cardiovascular disease: The immune system begins to decrease when one is under a lot of stress and this might lead to coronary artery disease. A study by researchers from Linköping University in Sweden published in Science Daily, 2021, indicates that the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, increased in the months preceding a heart attack. Immune ageing leads to cancer, cardiovascular disease, increased risk of pneumonia, and organ system ageing.


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