New Research Reveals How Stress Can Kill
© 2014 Health Realizations, Inc. Update
Researchers from the University of Connecticut Health Center have found a striking link between your nervous system and your immune system, revealing just how chronic stress may kill you.
Researchers have revealed that stress is intricately intertwined with the functioning of your immune system.
The researchers found that the same part of your nervous system that is responsible for the fight-or-flight stress response (the sympathetic nervous system (SNS)) also controls regulatory T cells, which are used by your body to end an immune response once the threatening foreign invader has been destroyed.
"We show for the first time that the nervous system controls the central immune police cells, called regulatory T cells," said Robert E. Cone, Ph.D., a senior researcher at the University of Connecticut Health Center, in ScienceDaily. "This further shows that it is imperative to concentrate on the neuro-immune interactions and to understand how these two different systems, the immune and nervous systems, interact."
Their new research on mice revealed that the sympathetic nervous system can negatively impact your immune system, and also shed some light on why stress often exacerbates autoimmune disorders like lupus, arthritis and eczema.
“Neurological events mediated by the SNS, such as a stress response, may affect the number of T cells that regulate an immune response,” the researchers wrote.
A separate study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology also found that stress, including anger and other strong emotions, can predict arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat) and may even lead to sudden cardiac arrest (which kills 95% of those it strikes).
"It's an important study because we are beginning to understand how anger and other types of mental stress can trigger potentially lethal ventricular arrhythmias, especially among patients with structural heart abnormalities," Dr. Rachel Lampert of the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., said on UPI.com.
Stress Impacts Your Health on Multiple Levels
Chronic stress is known to actually intensify inflammation, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), which makes you more vulnerable to inflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis.
You may also not have known that stress can actually accelerate aging. According to a 2006 study presented at the 114th Annual Convention of the APA, people with chronic stress are more likely to suffer from age-related diseases including Alzheimer's disease, major depression, mental decline, osteoporosis and metabolic syndrome.
Stress can also trigger diabetes, or worsen it if you already have it, because when your body is stressed it releases stress hormones that automatically release extra sugar into your bloodstream (which is, of course, not a good thing for someone with diabetes who is already struggling with high blood sugar).
Stress can even impact your weight. According to the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation, the greater the stress in a woman's life, the greater her weight. This was true even after other factors, like exercise habits, diet and smoking, were accounted for.
How to Keep Your Stress Levels Under Control
It’s hard to feel calm and relaxed all the time, but if you’re feeling your stress levels rise at least take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. Nearly 75 percent of Americans say they’re stressed, with money and work topping the list for why, according to a Stress in America survey by the American Psychological Association.
Before Bed Find Ways that Help
Calm your mind, soothe your emotions and create a state of deep relaxation in your body by making time to let go and relax in a natural, effortless way.
If stress is keeping you up at night, try listening to relaxing music which can help you find deep rest and sleep.
Don't eat or drink anything with caffeine from lunch time through the rest of the day and night. This includes not consuming chocolate, coffee, sodas and most teas.
Many have reported falling asleep faster, waking up less throughout the night, falling back to sleep faster when awakened during the night and feeling more rested the next morning.
Learning effective stress-management tools is therefore essential for your mental sanity and your physical health, and here we’ve listed five methods you can start using today.
1. Exercise: Aside from strengthening your heart and lungs, two organs that can become physically affected from too much stress, it's great for your mental health too. Exercising increases the levels of endorphins in your body, which stimulate your immune system, reduce stress and put you in a better mood.
Stretching should be integrated with your exercise routine, as it will provide you with increased energy levels and an even greater sense of well-being. There are countless stretches for your body, but it takes just 15 of them to stretch 95 percent of your body, according to stretching expert and creator of the DVD Stretching Toward a Healthier Life, Jacques Gauthier.
2. Take Time to Relax: This may sound easy, but how many of you reading this actually schedule time into your day to relax and enjoy life? Your body and mind know how to relax -- you just need to give them "permission" to do so, according to respected meditation expert Mary Maddux.
3. Sleep Well: When we sleep, the stress hormone, cortisol, is lowered, but when we are sleep deprived, cortisol levels rise. Further, your energy levels will go down and you'll be less able to cope with any setbacks during your day.
4. Proper Nutrition: Fortifying your body with the nutrients it needs is key to reducing stress (and staying healthy while you're feeling it), as stress can actually rob your body of nutrients. This means eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and other antioxidant-rich foods while avoiding junk foods. Also take advantage of these foods that help you de-stress quickly.
Foods That Relieve Stress... and are Healthy Too
Dark Leafy Greens
Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and Swiss chard are good for so many things, there's really no excuse not to eath them. Calming your nerves just happens to be one of them, as these veggies contain lots of the B-complex vitamins. These vitamins are crucial for preventing stress because they're needed to make serotonin, a chemical that helps boost your mood.
Asparagus is rich in folates, a B vitamin that is necessary to prevent irritability fatigue, depression and even confusion. "Unlike folate, folic acid isn't found in nature, so we don't know the effect of the excess." says folic acid researcher David Smith, PhD
Whole grains also help to soothe your mood because they're rich in B vitamins. Make sure you're really eating something with whole grains, though, and not just "whole wheat" bread that's actually mostly refined flour.
Yes, red meat CAN be good for you! Beef is a great source of B vitamins and mood-stabilizing zinc and iron. To get the most health benefits, stick to organic, grass-fed beef.
Berries are rich in antioxidants like vitamin C, which is known to help keep the stress hormone cortisol steady.
Almonds are rich in vitamin E, which helps to fight some of the damage caused by stress. Brazil nuts, meanwhile, contain lots of zinc and selenium, which also fight free radicals.
The omega-3 fats found in salmon may help to reduce feelings of stress.
Chicken contains lots of tryptophan, which can help to boost your mood.
Chicken is a great source of tryptophan, which can help you sleetp better and elevate your mood (as a bonus, it can even help to regulate your appetite!). Contrary to popular belief, chicken breast actually contains slightly more tryptophan than turkey.
Add some avocado slices to your sandwich or salad or whip up a batch of guacamole for a quick boost in your B vitamins (plus, avocados can help prevent cancer and they're great for your heart!).
5. Get Support: Stress can lead to feelings of depression and even isolation; keeping a network of social ties can help to reduce those negative feelings and boost your mood. It can also open new opportunities in your life, which may boost your feelings of well-being.
Journal of Leukocyte Biology 86: 1275-1283
Journal of the American College of Cardiology;53(9):779-81.
American Psychological Association