(AscendHealthy)- No one can avoid stress, but too much of it can affect the body in profound ways. Pile it on heavily enough, and it can break down just about anyone. In some people, it may even have the power to trigger a full-blown autoimmune assault.
The Latest Data
A 32-year Swedish study followed 106,464 patients with stress disorders, their 126,652 siblings, and 1,064,640 control subjects. At the end of the study, researchers found patients with stress disorders were more likely to develop autoimmune diseases than those from both of the other groups.
The researchers measured their results by “person-years,” adding the years collectively between the subjects to create their statistics. Their results showed autoimmune disorders developed in 9.1 people per 1000 person-years in patients with stress disorders. Their siblings averaged only 6.5 people per 1000 person-years, while the control group was even lower at 6.0 people.
Stress seemed to affect younger people most profoundly, but those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) appeared to be at the highest risk. That risk was reduced when the patients had taken selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) during the first year following their trauma. This suggests treatment for PTSD and other stress-related disorders could benefit both the mind and the body.
Researchers have long understood that stress can affect the immune system, even if they’re still piecing together how and why. Past studies have shown an undeniable link between mental and physical health, drawing connections between psychiatric illnesses and various states of immunosuppression.
Psychoneuroimmunology, also called neuroimmunomodulation, is an area of research that attempts to understand the impacts the mind can have on the body. Studies in this area have found stress hormones may create a domino effect between the immune, endocrine, and central nervous systems. This might be due to the way stress hormones affect cytokine production, which can quickly spiral out of control and may lead to inappropriate inflammatory responses.
Consider the impact stress can have on your ability to function on other levels. When you’re stressed out, you’re likely to have a harder time concentrating or multitasking. You may make more mistakes, forget important events or finish tasks less efficiently. The cells in your body can make mistakes too, especially when stress hormones abound. When signals get confused, the immune system can make critical errors that may lead to autoimmune diseases.
Genetics also appear to play a vital role, with most people who develop autoimmune diseases being genetically predisposed to them. Researchers are still working to understand why some of these people become ill and others don’t, but environmental factors such as stress seem to be one of the keys. Exposure to certain pathogens, disrupted sleep, alcohol abuse and smoking can also increase your chances of developing an autoimmune disease.
Stress really can be a killer, and in more ways than we may know. Reduce its potential effects on your health by addressing the stress in your life and taking care of any mental health issues that could be adding to it. Numerous factors go into the development of an autoimmune disease, and there are only so many you can control. Do what you can to reduce your stress, be it through meditation, having fun with friends, or treating yourself to a hot bath when you need it. Your health may demand it.
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