Chronic stress and inflammation have long been linked. Now, a new study has found that chronic stress changes gene activity of immune cells, leading to inflammation.
Stress triggers the sympathetic nervous system, commonly known as the ‘fight-or-flight response’. Whilst it is vital for survival, its prolonged activation can have negative effects on health. Chronic stress stimulates genes that lead to inflammation, causing them to be expressed at levels that are much higher than normal. Conversely, the activation of genes that help reduce inflammation is suppressed.
White and red blood cells are produced in the bone marrow, and it was here that researchers noticed changes to the cells taking place. Over a period of time, and in response to a chronic stressor, it was found that the white blood cells of mice showed a marked pro-inflammatory change.
Other institutions conducted a similar study using blood samples from humans and found that similarly primed immune cells were present in chronically stressed individuals.
So what does this mean?
Inflammation is the ultimate bad guy here; but stress exacerbates the problem and the inflammation it fuels can cause changes to metabolism, genetic expression and even cell structure, resulting in chronic disease and cancer.
Reducing stress can be difficult, particularly with the constant need to adapt to a busy lifestyle. There are many ways to deal with stress, but finding one that works for the individual is most important. Some of these include:
– Regular exercise.
– Taking time out to do something enjoyable.
– Schedule some “me” time.
– Get plenty of sleep.
– Eat the right foods. A good diet based on wholefoods rather than processed foods, will nourish the body, and prevent inflammation. Refined/processed foods will feed the inflammatory process.
There is no doubt about the deleterious affects of stress. While everyone has to deal with it every day, finding ways to reduce stress and take care of our health should always take precedence.
 Powell, N.D et al. Social stress up-regulates inflammatory gene expression in the leukocyte transcriptome via β-adrenergic induction of myelopoiesis. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Oct 8;110(41)