What is the link between stress and immunity?

By Lise Lochereau, naturopath

Stress… ah, a big topic in society! We hear it everywhere, on TV, in podcasts, on social networks, in magazines.

And it would even harm our immunity? Let's take a closer look!

What is immunity?

Immunity is the ability of an organism to defend itself against foreign substances and infectious agents, which are also called pathogens: viruses, bacteria, microbes.

This immunity is made up in particular of our white blood cells, which play the role of little soldiers. It is our army, ready to fight viruses and other agents harmful to our vitality.

Christian Brun, naturopath, defines this defense mechanism as the recognition of "self" and "non-self": " Each time there is a foreign element that enters our body or that does not conform to our physiology, there's a whole system that will automatically fall into place to fight it, whether it's a splinter, a dust, a virus, a bacterium, an abnormal cell... ".

All individuals are in constant contact with pathogens. To protect us, there are natural barriers such as skin, tears or mucous membranes.

When these pathogens manage to enter the body, our immune system kicks in. That's when our little soldiers come in!

If we have good vitality and we are in good shape, they too will have the ability to defend themselves properly. On the other hand, if we are tired, they risk being weakened, losing the battle and thus letting the enemy in… This is how we become sick.

And the stress in all this?

Most of our rhythms of life expose us to a wide variety of stressors on a daily basis: not missing a train, being on time for a professional appointment, traffic jams, the noise of constant horns, the news on TV, fear of the future, the health situation, etc.

We might think that there are different types of stress, more or less important, but in reality, the organism interprets and reacts to all stresses in the same way: the release of cortisol.

Focus on cortisol

One of the stress hormones, secreted by the adrenal glands, is called cortisol.

In the short term, the release of cortisol is very useful and participates in the process of protecting our body. Cortisol responds to the so-called "fight/flight" defense system.

Combined with adrenaline, these two hormones play an important role and prepare us to perform better in stressful situations: increased heart rate and blood pressure, increased blood sugar to give energy , hypervigilance, etc.

To sum up, cortisol is a hormone that boosts us and can save our lives in the event that it is really in danger.

The concern, as I said above, is that the body does not make the difference between a vital stressful situation (being in front of a lion in the middle of the savannah) and a lesser situation (being on time for an interview with hiring). The trigger mechanism is the same.

Hypercortisolemia: the impact on our immunity

As we have just explained, cortisol is not bad for your health as long as it is secreted in a timely manner.

However, when there is hypercortisolemia (high cortisol level), it will have a negative effect on our vitality. This defense mechanism monopolizes the body's energy on certain organs and cognitive functions, to the detriment of other functions: digestive or immune. In the long term, this will weaken our immune cells and we may become more vulnerable to certain diseases.

In addition, high cortisol levels reduce the production of white blood cells, our little soldiers. Cortisol is said to be “ immunosuppressant ”, that is to say that it limits the action of the immune system.

This explains why we often fall ill after a (long) stressful period.

The results ?

Many more or less “serious” pathologies can appear in the long term:

  • Intense fatigue / exhaustion
  • Diabetes (high blood sugar level by action of cortisol)
  • emotional fog
  • Recurrent cold / bronchitis
  • Digestive disorders
  • ENT disorders
  • And so on…

How to do ?

There is no solution or miracle drug! Everything will be played on our relationship to life, and the management of our reactions to stress. Nature can also give us a little boost.

  • To relieve stress* :
    • Relaxation and meditation are the two most effective techniques in stress management
    • Work on your thoughts
    • Resume a sleep rhythm so that it is of good quality
    • Playing sports: creation of endorphins, lowers stress levels and increases a feeling of well-being - virtuous circle
    • Reduce stimulants (coffee, alcohol)
    • Keep a social connection
    • Rhodiola
    • Ashwagandha
  • To boost your immunity* :
    • Ginseng
    • Propolis
    • Ravintsara
    • Eucalyptus radiata
    • Thyme
    • Astragalus
    • Vitamins C and D
    • Magnesium Cure

*Warning, these tips are purely indicative. It is highly recommended to make an appointment with a health specialist in order to be guided as best as possible according to your needs.


Find Lise on her Instagram account Holisme&Vous

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