Do you keep getting colds? Does it seem whenever there is a bug going around you can count on getting it? Are you taking supplements which help boost your immune system and making sure you eat the right foods but still struggling to have a month where you are well the whole time? It could be stress which is suppressing your immunity and leaving you open to illness.
Your immune system is made up of billions of cells which are constantly travelling through your bloodstream to every part of your body. They are defending the body against antigens like bacteria, viruses and cancerous cells. When we are stressed our body releases a hormone called corticosteroid and this can suppress how well out immune system works by lowering the number of one of the types of cells which fights off infection.
“When we are in a situation of sudden acute stress our body can deal with that just fine as it was designed to do so,” says nutritionist Karen Alexander. “But long-term stress, chronic stress really impacts immune system. Chronic stress lowers the immune system and it will put you at increased risk of disease in general, on-going chronic stress needs to be managed and controlled as much as possible.”
In small doses, stress can be a good thing as it can make us more alert and give us the motivation to get things done. The problems come when there is no end to the stress. Ongoing stress means our body never gets a chance to relax and work as it should do. When you are in this zone, your immunity is under threat.
Not only does stress prevent immune cells being produced, it also prevents your gut properly absorbing all those immunity boosting nutrients you have been packing in.
“Chronic stress causes a reduction in absorption of nutrients because it affects digestion,” adds Karen. This is because our guts don’t work properly when we are stressed. So that all important job of removing all the nutrients from our food and making sure they get to the right place is affected too. Stress increases our gut motility and how much fluid it produces – which is why you might feel the need run to the loo when you are about to do something really stressful, like a job interview. As a result stress can speed up the flow of food from the stomach through the intestines. It can also hold this process up too which is equally bad.
And feeling rotten all the time and worrying about what you’re going to catch next of course causes yet more issues! Because it essentially makes you more stressed. “Feeling ill causes further stress which means immunity will be lowered further – everything has a knock on effect.” So if you want to boost your immunity perhaps you should be increasing decreasing the stress in your life.