Many of us heard that stress is “bad for us.” It is true that long-term, chronic stress can have many negative effects on all systems of the body.1 In my current blog on my homepage, I review what happens in the body when someone has an allergy or experiences respiratory symptoms. I also discuss how the body’s immune response is intricately connected to all systems. In this blog, I review the connection between the nervous and immune systems.
Stress and Allergy Flares
A study with 179 university employees suffering allergic symptoms and the influence of lifestyle factors on their manifestation concluded:
These findings suggest that individuals with persistent emotional stress have more frequent allergy flares. Furthermore, those with more flares have greater negative mood.2.
Of course, there is also direct biochemical evidence of this link.3-5 Modern Healthcare Practitioner reported on how stress can impact immune function:
First, sympathetic fibers descend from the brain into both primary and secondary lymph tissue. These fibers release substances that bind to receptors on white blood cells. Second, the adrenal hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol bind to specific receptors on white blood cells and have regulatory effects on their distribution and function. Finally, one’s efforts to manage the demands of stress often result in coping strategies that have a secondary negative effect on the immune system – such as alcohol use or changes in sleeping patterns. Thus behavior can be an important pathway linking stress with the immune system.3
Stress and Colds
A two-part study was done to assess the effect of stress on symptoms from exposure to a virus. The first part of the experiment consisted of 125 men and 151 women. The subjects were quarantined for 24 hours and then were given “nasal drops containing a low infectious dose of either RV21 (N = 129) or RV39 (N = 147).”
In the second study, there were 39 men and 43 women who were also quarantined and then given the virus strain, RV39. All participants were paid $800 for getting infected.
The authors concluded the following in relationship to glucocorticoid receptor resistance (GCR), which occurs as a result of chronic stress hormones “hitting the receptors”:
Study 1: After covarying the control variables, those with recent exposure to a long-term threatening stressful experience demonstrated GCR; and those with GCR were at higher risk of subsequently developing a cold. Study 2: With the same controls used in study 1, greater GCR predicted the production of more local proinflammatory cytokines among infected subjects. These data provide support for a model suggesting that prolonged stressors result in GCR, which, in turn, interferes with appropriate regulation of inflammation. Because inflammation plays an important role in the onset and progression of a wide range of diseases, this model may have broad implications for understanding the role of stress in health.6
There are various ways to mitigate the stress response. I wrote about some overlooked ways here and also highlighted how essential oils not only impact stress through olfaction, but also through biochemical responses. In other words, essential oils can modulate our immune response while calming our brain.
In another article, Dr. Rosen also reviews some integrative approaches to allergies. These include eating an anti-inflammatory diet, the use of fish oil, and supportive herbals.7 These are all also important for overall health.
To read more about supporting your immune system, make sure you check out my blog here.
1. American Psychological Association. Stress Effects on the Body. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-body.aspx
2. Patterson AM, Yildiz VO, Klatt MD, Malarkey WB. Perceived stress predicts allergy flares. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2014 Apr;112(4):317-21
3. Labrix. Stress and Immune Function. Modern Healthcare Practitioner. October 30, 2015. http://www.modernhcp.com/stress-and-immune-function/
4. Hussain D. Stress, Immunity, and Health: Research Findings and Implications. International Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation. 2010. 15(1) 94-100.
5. Segerstrom SC, Miller GE. Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: A Meta-Analytic Study of 30 Years of Inquiry. Psychological bulletin. 2004;130(4):601-630. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.130.4.601.
6. Cohen S, Janicki-Deverts D, Doyle WJ, Miller GE, Frank E, Rabin BS, Turner RB. Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk. PNAS. 2012 109 (16) 5995-5999. doi:10.1073/pnas.1118355109
7. Rosen D. Seasonal Allergies: An Integrative Approach to Atopic Disorders. Integrative Practitioner. http://www.integrativepractitioner.com/topics/environmental-health/seasonal-allergies-an-integrative-approach-to-atopic-disorders/