Discuss stress and the immune system.

Health & Medical
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Jul 11th, 2015

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Stress and  Immune System

The immune system is a collection of billions of cells that travel through the bloodstream.  The immune system is basically an interaction between cells and cellular products. The white blood cells (leukocytes), which are the main fighter cells of the immune system.They move in and out of tissues and organs, defending the body against foreign bodies (antigens), such as bacteria, viruses and cancerous cells.

In measuring the immune response, there are two basic ways quantitatively measuring levels of cells, or second by using a functional measurement. In quantitative measurements includes a measure of the number of cells in a given volume of blood, or a percentage of each type of cell and in a functional measurement, lymphocytes  are exposed to a non-specific antigen (mitogen).

There are two types of lymphocytes:

  • B cells- produce antibodies which are released into the fluid surrounding the body’s cells to destroy the invading viruses and bacteria.
  • T cells (see picture opposite) - if the invader gets inside a cell, these (T cells) lock on to the infected cell, multiply and destroy it.

The main types of immune cells are white blood cells. There are two types of white blood cells – lymphocytes and phagocytes.

The stress hormone corticosteroid can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system (e.g. lowers the number of lymphocytes). Stress can also have an indirect effect on the immune system as a person may use unhealthy behavioral coping strategies to reduce their stress, such as drinking and smoking. 

Stress is linked to headaches; infectious illness like flu cardiovascular disease; diabetes, asthma and gastric ulcers

How Does Stress Affect Your Immune System?

No one is immune from stress. 

According to Merriam-Webster, Stress is 

  “A state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work, etc”. 

An example of ‘good stress’ would be the short, intense burst of tension or anxiety that is felt before events like a test or job interview. Good stress is beneficial because it can provide a temporary extra boost of energy or alertness, which increases performance. But mostly Stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety

How stress weakens the immune system?

When long term stress becomes chronic, many systems in the body are affected. Chronic stress results in high levels of cortisol and other corticosteroids circulating in the blood for a long period of time.  People who suffer from chronic or long term stress can experience symptoms like anxiety, depression and sleep problems. Physically, they risk high blood pressure, heart disease and digestive problems. Another danger they face is a weak immune system. The immune system is the body’s form of defense. It is comprised of organs, tissues, cells and cell products.

 There are two main ways that stress has a direct, negative effect on the immune system:

  • It creates chronic inflammatory conditions
  •  It lowers the immunity of those who otherwise might have a healthy immune system.


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Jul 11th, 2015

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