How Prolonged Stress Affects the Immune System
Constant stress makes you sick. American researchers have now discovered that negative stress can accelerate the aging of the immune system.
Dates keep coming, the to-do list seems endless, there are conflicts in the family – constant negative stress makes you sick. Consequences include listlessness, gastrointestinal disturbances and insomnia. Researchers at the University of Southern California have now discovered how the immune system suffers when the body is under constant stress.
With age, it is quite normal for the immune system to weaken. Pathogens enter the body more easily because the immune system weakens over time. As we age, the immune system’s T cells become less effective at fighting pathogens. There is a lack of “fresh” defense cells. The immune system needs it to fight off new and unknown pathogens. Another factor is that there are more worn-out white blood cells. This age-related weakening of the immune system is called immune senescence. The result: an increased risk of age-related health problems such as cancer or cardiovascular disease.
The immune system ages due to stress
When two people turn 50, they may have different immunological ages, study author Eric Klopack explains in The Conversation. Immune senescence can also be seen in middle age. Persistent stress is considered a possible cause. To test this thesis, the researchers interviewed 5,744 people over the age of 50 about social stress and took blood samples. The scientists asked the subjects about various stressors: stressful life events, lifelong and everyday discrimination, trauma, and chronic stress (for example, at work).
The result: The subjects: indoors, who were exposed to more stress, had an older immune system. The researchers found more worn-out white blood cells and fewer “fresh” immune cells. “Older T cells that have exhausted their ability to fight off invaders produce proteins that can increase inflammation. People with low levels of newer T cells and high levels of older T cells have an aging immune system “, explains Eric. The researchers were also able to see the link between stress and aging of the immune system when they took into account factors such as alcohol consumption, smoking status and body mass index. In their study, the researchers were also able to observe that long-term stress leads to a lack of exercise and poor eating habits.
Changing your lifestyle can have a positive impact
However, those who eat well and exercise enough seem to be able to offset the negative effects of stress. Better stress management can also have a positive effect on the immune system. However, Klopack points out that the type of study he and his team conducted cannot fully clarify cause and effect. Further studies are needed to better understand how chronic stress affects immune aging.
“Younger immune systems are better able to fight infection and generate protective immunity against vaccines. Immune senescence may explain why people are likely to have more severe cases of Covid-19 and a more weak to vaccines as they age. For research, it is important to better understand the aging of the immune system”, explains Eric Klopack.
Sources: Study University of Southern California, The Conversation
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