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The Stress-Immunity Link: How Stress Affects the Immune System

January 04, 2018

Today most health professionals agree: stress is a major factor in the decline of overall health.

Stress is devastating to the body for many reasons.

One major reason is because it suppresses the body’s natural immune response, leaving it vulnerable to infections and illness.

Sadly, one report in Psychological Bulletin suggests that the immune system isn’t able to adapt to stress over time, but instead, its functioning wears away.

What is happening to our immune systems when we are under stress and what can we do about it?

Immunity 101

Your immune system is one of the most delicately balanced systems in the body.

It’s a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs that defend against millions of bacteria, viruses, toxins, and parasites that would otherwise invade your body.

The main elements of the immune system are: the thymus gland, bone marrow, the spleen, enzymatic proteins, and the lymphatic system with its powerful white blood cells and lymphocytes.

All of the immune system elements need to be nourished and functioning well to keep you healthy. A depleted immune system is a clear threat to health.

In AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), we can see what happens when the immune system isn’t able to defend itself: rapidly progressing, unusual cancers; life threatening infections like pneumonia; systemic candida (yeast overgrowth) and herpes; and muscle wasting.

Stress Vs. Immune Response: Battle Royale

Short-term, modest stress isn’t dangerous to your immune function. In fact, a little stress can enhance immunity. However, chronic stress, which many of us experience today, leaves the immune system vulnerable.

Corticosteroid hormones released during high stress decrease the number of lymphocytes available to fight the pathogens around every corner.

High stress increases heart rate and blood pressure. Over time, it damages the cardiovascular system and creates excessive free radicals that the immune system has to deal with.

Furthermore, there’s no question that many of us deal with stress by self-medicating with alcohol, smoking, drugs, or even sugar, all of which suppress the immune system.

A high stress lifestyle depresses immune response by promoting inflammation in the body.

Too much stress can increase your cholesterol levels by disrupting fatty acid synthesis. Digestive problems are very common in stress sufferers.

High stress encourages spasms and causes excessive production of adrenaline, which boosts ulcer risk. Too much stress is linked to migraines, diabetes, asthma, the flu, and a score of other illnesses, too.

The Role of Stress in Autoimmune Illness and Premature Aging

The role of stress in autoimmune problems like rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, Hashimotos’s disease, and interstitial cystitis cannot be understated.

Often, an autoimmune illness is preceded by an extremely stressful event like divorce or loss of a loved one.

High stress causes dysregulation of the entire immune system.Being stuck in the “fight or flight” stress response causes it to become confused and attacks its own tissues in response.

Research suggests stress may be linked to premature aging, too.

According to the National Alzheimer’s Association, caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s overproduce Interleukin 6 (IL-6), an immune cell linked to age-related problems like heart disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, and brain decline.

Stress even affects the body’s ability to heal from simple cuts and scrapes, and more serious infections.

Give Your Immune System What It Needs To Thrive

Relieving stress is an important part of supporting your immune system health.

A natural stress relief program takes commitment, but the rewards are big in terms of reduced illness and increased well-being and vitality.

Consider natural therapies like mindful meditation and EFT to keep chronic stress in check.

Try nervine herbs like skullcap, passionflower, and ashwagandha to relax your mind and body when you’re under a lot of stress.

In addition, make sure you’re eating a whole foods, plant based diet.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants that act as powerful immune system defenders.

Have a fresh, green salad or smoothie every day possible for the most active immune response.

Finally, especially avoid immune suppressing substances like addictive drugs or excessive alcohol, non-organic foods, GMO foods, processed foods, and refined sugar – all of which can be as damaging to the immune system as chronic stress.


Bierma, P. (2016, Jan.) The Immune System and Stress. Retrieved from Health Day,
Cole, W. (2015, Jan.) 12 Common triggers of autoimmune disease. Retrieved from Mind Body Green,
Hansen, F. (2014, July) How does stress affect your immune system. Retrieved from Adrenal Fatigue Solution,
Joy, T. (2013, Aug). How does stress affect the immune system? Retrieved from Live Strong,
McLeod, S. (2010) Stress, illness, and the immune system. Retrieved from Simply Psychology,