Stress and Your Immune Function: High stress levels make us sick

by Expat Life

We all live with stress. It is unavoidable. Everyday we handle the all-too- common stresses of family, work, money and career. Under normal circumstances, stress actually helps us and keeps our body strong and mind alert, but chronic or cumulative stress has the opposite effect and makes us susceptible to illness and disease.

Not all stress is negative. The body uses stress to overcome fatigue and enhance performance. A pioneer in the modern study of stress, Hans Selye, termed this eustress. This action-enhancing stress gives athletes, for example, the competitive edge, and why you often hear athletes say they are ‘nervous’ before big games.

Stress turns negative when it overwhelms our coping mechanisms; strains our body and immune systems and causes behavioral or physical problems. This negative stress is called distress and produces mental fog, hyperactivity, inhibits restful sleep, and impairs performance.

Given the demands of our fast paced “always-on” lives, it is no wonder that doctors are seeing and treating more stress induced illnesses than ever before. Emotional stress is a major contributing factor to the six leading causes of death in the United States: cancer, coronary heart disease, accidental injuries,
respiratory disorders, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. The morbidity and mortality rates of stress-related illness are nothing short of alarming.

 The Center for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States estimates that stress accounts for about 75% of all doctor’s visits including but is not limited to headaches, backaches, constipation, heart
problems, high blood pressure and ulcers just to name a few.

 The European Agency for Safety and Health at work reported that about 50% of job absenteeism is caused by stress.

 According to Occupational Health and Safety news and the National Council on compensation of insurance, up to 90% of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related complaints.

According to Dr. Nawin Jittat at the VitalLife Scientific Wellness Center at Bumrungrad International Hospital, chronic stress creates high levels of wear and tear on our bodies by triggering chemical reactions that flood the body with the hormone cortisol. “Cortisol decreases inflammation, decreases white blood
cells and NK cells (special cells that kill cancer), increases tumor development and growth, and increases the rate of infection and tissue damage. People who are highly stressed feel “hot” inside because they have high levels of cortisol in their system.”

There is a growing body of medical science called psychoneuroimmunology to understand the interactions between the immune system, central nervous system and endocrine system. Studies have shown that chronic stress suppresses the body’s normal immune function. “There is a knock on effect here,” says Dr. Nawin. “Chronic stress impairs the body’s production and maintenance of the immune system, like the thymus, resulting in the inability to produce T cells or the hormones needed to stimulate them, which then lead to imbalances and inefficient immune response capabilities.”

Dr. Nawin says that many of his patients come to him because of “they don’t feel right” and often the root cause is high stress levels. He says that more and more scientific studies are linking stress to medical illnesses like asthma, peptic ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease and coronary heart disease. “As a wellness practitioner, my focus is different than a medical doctor looking for illness,” explains Dr. Nawin. “My approach is to look for lifestyle habits that may be triggering hormone imbalances and producing these unwanted symptoms that effect quality of life. That’s lifestyle medicine.”

For more information please contact:
VitalLife Scientific Wellness Center
68 Bumrungrad International Tower Building 10th Floor,
Soi Sukhumvit 1, Klongtoey Nua, Wattana,
Bangkok 10110
Email: [email protected]
Phone: +66(0) 2066 8899
Line Official: vitallife_wellness
Opening Hours:
Monday to Friday: 08.00 – 19.00 hrs.
Saturday to Sunday: 08.00 – 16.00 hrs.

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