Stress Part 1: The Immunity Effect


“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”...  Really? 

How often have we heard this? Like somehow, stress, pressure, chaos, etc. has our best interest at heart? OK, yes I’ve learned a ton from what hasn’t killed me. And yes, stressful situations and trying circumstances have made me persevere that much more. They’ve possibly made me emotionally stronger. And I’m grateful for those experiences, from a “life-lesson” perspective, and honestly wouldn't trade them for anything.

But at what cost were those lessons learned? I may be stronger emotionally and maybe mentally (that’s debatable 😊), but am I stronger physically and in my health?

Resoundingly, that answer is “no”.  So, I’m seeking to learn a new thing now… WHY stress isn’t making me stronger.

I’ll dig into this topic a bit more in upcoming posts, but for now I want to focus on one thing: the immunity effect.  

Stress plays a major role in suppressing our immune system. And speaking of immunity, NO ONE is immune to stress. It happens to the best… even the strongest… of us.

When we encounter stress, our body has a natural “fight or flight” response. Like, if I’m being attacked and have to run for my life, my body goes into a series of hormone responses to make sure I have enough energy to live to fight another day.

First the adrenals fire off cortisol, telling the liver to manufacture glucose so that we have energy for the fight (or the flight, if you're me and have no kung-fu skills). Then, in response to elevate glucose, the pancreas releases insulin to bring blood sugar back into balance.

This is all a perfectly orchestrated, rhythmic production to keep us alive… until we don’t shut it down.

When we live in chronic stress, this cycle never catches a break. We produce cortisol like our lives depend on it (because, our body thinks it does when under stress), and the hormone “dump” keeps dumping (creating a whole separate problem!).

Chronically high levels of cortisol eventually exhaust the adrenals, not to mention our body can grow resistant to cortisol’s effects. Over time, this has a lasting impact on the Immune System.

One way it does this is by inflammation. Cortisol has an anti-inflammatory effect in bursts of stress, but chronic stress leads to the OPPOSITE effect; overspent adrenals or cortisol resistance (yes, our bodies can begin resisting it, just like insulin) sets the stage for inflammation. Add to that other factors usually synonymous with a stressful lifestyle (diet, lack of rest), and it’s a set-up for disaster.

Let me detour for a second to another way chronically high cortisol suppresses the immune system: it interferes with the production of lymphocytes. Without getting too technical, we need these guys to tell our “fighter” cells when to fight off invaders. Sounds pretty important, huh?

ALLLLLLL that to say… clearly, stress has NOT served to make me physically stronger, since I sit here today battling the effects of over-inflammation and autoimmunity.

There’s tons more to talk about with stress, but for now, I think I’ll go de-stress with a nice warm bowl of Asparagus Soup and Netflix!

Take time to relax this week, and don't sweat the small stuff!

Thriving With You,