How stress affects the immune system

Man wearing corporate clothes stressed in front of a laptop
Long term stress can suppress the immune system

By Caroline Tran, KOL Editor for NutriSmart

Stress is the body’s flight or fight response to pressure or tough situations. While a bit of stress can support memory recall and motivate us to complete tasks, chronic stress over a long period can have negative effects on the immune system.

The immune system is a structure within the body which protects against antigens such as bacteria, viruses and diseases. The white blood cells lymphocytes and phagocytes are responsible for fighting infection. Ongoing stress can lower lymphocytes levels in the body which can put you at risk of contracting the common cold and other illnesses.

 

Causes of stress

Stress occurs when the adrenal glands secrete the adrenalin and cortisol hormones. These hormones are responsible for our survival, which activates several physical responses such as:

  • increased heart rate
  • fatigue
  • trouble sleeping
  • loss of appetite
  • headache
  • faster breathing.

Our ancestors dealt with stress when confronted with dangerous situations, such as walking into the path of a dangerous animal. In modern society, stress can occur from work, family and social demands.

 

What happens if you don't manage your stress?

Stress alone can’t cause illnesses but can weaken the immune system.

Chronic stress makes us more prone to catching diseases and falling ill as once the body is used to having high levels of cortisol in the bloodstream, it can cause inflammation and compromise the immune system.

Stress can also indirectly affect our health as we tend to engage in unhealthy eating and increased alcohol consumption during stressful periods.

 

Effects of stress on the immune system

Too much stress can inhibit the immune system from functioning properly. Over time, this can lead to anxiety and depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, indigestion and diabetes.

 

Stress reduction techniques to support the immune system

It is impossible and not advised to eradicate stress but there are steps you can follow to keep it under control.  

  • Exercise: Moderate to high-intensity exercise for 15-30 minutes every day can stimulate endorphins, chemicals in the brain to boost mood and enhance the immune system. 
  • Meditation: Meditating for 10 to 15 minutes a day can lower stress levels and improve the immune system’s function as it stimulates the body to relax and helps reduce the physical symptoms of stress. 
  • Reduce phone use: Smartphones have been linked to raising cortisol levels in the body, which over time can suppress the immune system.

 

Immunity supplements to support stress relief

It is essential to support the immune system’s defences during stressful periods. Many people with busy lives may not have time to consume their required nutrient intake through food alone. In this case, a vitamin supplement may be necessary.

 

Look for supplements containing:

  • Andrographis paniculata leaf (Green chiretta)

Andrographis has been used traditionally in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for its anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and antioxidant effects. It is also believed to be a natural remedy for boosting the immune system.

 

  • Astragalus membranaceus (Huáng qí)

Astragalus is used traditionally in Chinese medicine also for its anti-inflammatory and immune support properties. By boosting the immune system, astragalus may help fight viral infections and relieve symptoms of the common cold.

 

  • Allium sativum (Garlic)

Allium sativum contains a compound called alliin, which when crushed or sliced turns into allicin which helps white blood cells target and destroy viral infections in the body.

 

  • Echinacea purpurea herb

Echinacea purpurea, also known as purple coneflower, is a flower with medicinal and anti-inflammatory properties. It has been clinically studied and found to boost the immune system’s defences.

 

Purple coneflowers have medicinal properties to boost the immune system.

 

If you are under constant stress and have noticed that it is affecting other areas of your life and wellbeing, consult your healthcare professional for advice and treatment.

 

Our Private Label range contains an immune tablet to support healthy immune function and reduce symptoms of the common cold and flu.