The Real Effects Of Stress On Your Immune System May Be Worse Than You Think

Stress is a part of life, and while short bouts of it don't usually do too much harm, chronic stress can have negative effects on your health. When your body experiences stress, it releases cortisol, and when too much of that hormone stays in your bloodstream, it can lead to several health conditions. Too much cortisol means your body may become more susceptible to inflammation, which can strain your immune system. As a result, your body produces fewer white blood cells, meaning your ability to fight infections is inhibited (via Cleveland Clinic).

Experts have known that as we age, our immune systems become weaker. Researchers who wanted to know just how much stress impacts the immune system studied 5,744 adults over the age of 50 (per HealthDay News). Participants answered questions and assessed levels of stress in their lives. Researchers also examined blood samples from the participants through a process called flow cytometry, which assesses 24 types of immune cells. The results they found were surprising.

Stress makes the immune system age faster

Results of the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, revealed that people with high levels of stress had older immune systems. Aged immune systems had fewer T-cells and more aged white blood cells, both of which are necessary to help the body fight disease and illness. The causes of stress include social stressors, chronic stress and traumatic events, and everyday and lifetime discrimination. Increased stress can raise the risk of heart disease, cancer, and infections. Another concern is cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection, which is common and known to place a heavy burden on the immune system, per HealthDay News.

Researchers noted that the outcome was independent of education, smoking, drinking, body mass index, and race. However, Eric Klopack, the lead author of the study, noted that people who experience higher levels of stress tend to exercise less and eat a poor diet. This could explain why their immune systems were aging at a faster pace, reports the University of Southern California.