How can stress affect your immune system?
Whilst being stressed may not make us any more or less likely to come into contact with bugs that can make us ill, it's thought to affect the functions of our immune system, which we rely on for detecting and keeping these potential invading pathogens at bay!
When we are stressed our 'fight or flight' responses are more active which means the concentration of circulating stress hormones in our bodies is higher. Unfortunately, these conditions just aren't optimal for our immune system to be working at its best!
What did the new study find?
When we're stressed, the body undertakes a number of physical responses in order to prime it for any impeding, emergency situations, otherwise known as sources of stress. This means that changes in your heart rate, breathing rate and functionality of your skeletal muscles all become apparent.
In a brand new publication, the researchers therefore assessed heart rate variability in 184 healthy adults as a measure of stress, and then compared this to measures indicative of immune function.
The results concluded that more stress meant a significantly lower proportion of two types of white blood cells called monocytes and lymphocytes.1 These are two key components of our immune system that we need to be present and correct. Ideally they should be patrolling our bodies daily in order to detect and destroy any invading pathogens such as the viruses that could potentially give rise to troublesome cold and flu infections.
What can be done to help to tackle stress & support your immune system?
So, it seems that stress could be having a detrimental effect on our immune system capabilities. To help limit any negative effects of stress, there are a number of home and herbal remedies that could help to keep you fighting fit:
1. Dietary do's & don'ts
Start the day well & avoid dips in blood sugar
Starting the day with a good breakfast can help to support more stable blood sugar levels throughout the course of the morning. This, in turn, could help support your mood as well as your stress levels.
Oats are a particularly nutritious option which you can use to make porridge or homemade breakfast bars. They contain a good dose of slow release carbohydrates, as well as essential B vitamins, to help support your nervous system and energy levels.
Fruit is rich in vitamin C which is one essential nutrient that is considered vital for supporting the optimal function of our immune system. Interestingly, sources of refined sugar may compete with vitamin C in the body and therefore impair our immune functions,2 therefore sticking with more natural sources of sugar to help satisfy your sweet tooth is preferable.
Avoid stimulants including alcohol and caffeine
If you're the anxious or stressed type anyway, fuelling yourself in the daytime with caffeine, and then attempting to unwind at night with alcohol, could be doing you more harm than good.
Caffeine quickly initiates our stress responses, whilst alcohol (or more specifically the hangover associated with it!) can affect your blood sugar levels and, in turn, up the stress. As a double whammy, alcohol could also negatively influence specific immune pathways too.3
2. Manage your lifestyle
Moving more is good for two reasons. Firstly it's well known that exercise is a useful tactic for helping to reduce stress (thanks to the release of feel-good hormones called endorphins) but taking part in regular gentle exercise may also have positive effects in terms of our immune functions.
As we increase our movement, our blood flow becomes more efficient and this helps to keep a nice turnover of immune cells – it keeps them patrolling just as we want them to be! Just watch out though, as over-exerting yourself could go the other way and have negative effects, as it basically counts as a source of stress!4
Incorporate relaxation techniques
If busy family lives or work commitments are taking their toll, incorporating some relaxation techniques can make the world of difference. Whether it's simply taking 10 minutes out to practice some breathing techniques, or going to a weekly yoga class, finding what works well for you can be worthwhile and may ultimately have benefits for your immune system.
Try some essential oils
For both relaxation and potential benefits to the immune system, introducing some essential oils into your environment could prove helpful. Some scents worth trying to support these areas of health can include lavender, rose, chamomile, eucalyptus or lemon.
3. Include herbal remedies
Finally, if you want to tackle some of your stress or immune system worries more head on, there are some remedies available that you can add to your regime:
AvenaCalm – AvenaCalm is a fresh herbal tincture which is naturally rich in B vitamins and other essential nutrients to help support the nervous system and relieve symptoms of mild stress or anxiety.
Echinaforce – Echinaforce is a licensed herbal remedy for supporting the immune system and helping to maintain the body's resistance to infection.
Echinaforce would be fine to take alongside stress remedies as required.