Too much stress can cause physical problems. Stress has been linked to digestive and cardiovascular problems. High levels and chronic stress suppress the immune system leaving you vulnerable to illness. But a recent study has shown that some stress is good for you and can actually help your immune system keep you healthy.
During times of stress, our “fight or flight” response is triggered. When this happens physical changes take place:
- Respiratory rate increases
- Blood is diverted from the digestive tract to muscles and limbs
- Pupils dilate and sight becomes sharper
- Perception of pain diminishes
- Awareness increases
All of this helps prepare us for either fighting or running from whatever danger has presented itself. We become both physically and psychologically prepared for whatever we are faced with.
According to a study published in the Journal of Psychonneuroendocrinology, in addition to these changes, our immune system is activated. Immune cells move from our spleen and bone marrow into the blood and, from there, to our organs. The researchers found that three hormones – norepinephrine, epinephrine and corticosterone – were released by the adrenal glands in rats exposed to mild stress. During the lab tests, norepinephrine was released first, sending immune cells into the blood. Epinephrine was released next, forcing immune cells into the blood and then to other places within the body, such as the skin.
Corticosterone, released last, sent all immune cell types into the blood and to other places in the body.
The scientists believe this can help boost immune readiness and the findings could possibly be used to manipulate stress-hormone levels in order to “improve patients’ responses to vaccines or recovery from surgery or wounds.”  Because the study was completed on rats, further research on humans is needed.
“How Stress Helps the Immune System,” 2012, Grace Rattue, MedicalNewsToday.com
“Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: A Meta-Analytic Study of 30 Years of Inquiry,” 2004, July, Suzanne C. Segerstrom, Gregory E. Miller, Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 130 (4)
“Stress Weakens the Immune System,” 2006, Feb 23, Staff Writer, American Psychological Association
Published On: September 03, 2012