Stress and the Immune System?

Have you noticed that your symptoms often worsen when you’re stressed? In lupus or other autoimmune diseases stress directly correlates with flares. Here’s a short explanation why:

In response to stress, our adrenal glands release the hormone cortisol, resulting in a series of predictable responses which include, but aren’t limited to an increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, increased sweating, and an increased energy production. This response is known as the ‘fight or flight’ response, or stress response.

Cortisol has powerful anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive effects. Due to its’ anti-inflammatory effects, cortisol (Solu-Medrol®, prednisone) is a lifesaver in asthma and other autoimmune diseases where inflammation has run rampant. The immunosuppressant properties are used to make sure that the body does not reject transplanted tissues or organs.

The downsides? In addition to suppressing inflammation, cortisol suppresses our immune system, making it more difficult for us to fight infection. Cortisol also increases blood sugar, so diabetics may have a harder time controlling their blood sugar. There can be increased appetite leading to weight gain and decreasing density of muscle mass and bone density.

Constant secretion of cortisol can result in lowered resistance to infections and stress related illnesses like backache, headaches, insomnia and colds. Each of these is associated with other problems, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease, to name a few.

Since cortisol is secreted when we’re under stress, and stress is a frequent ‘visitor’ to our lives, we must learn to manage the stress in our lives. One way might be to practice relaxation exercises, visual imagery, have a belief system, take anger management classes and read books.

One physician practiced medicine and over the 25 years that he practiced medicine, Dr. Marco De La Cruz realized a connection between the mind, the body and the spirit. He has also noticed quite a connection between these disciplines and has explained them in a book,
“Balancing Act: A Mind-Body-Spirit Approach for Optimal Health”

In his book,Dr. De La Cruz  explains and emphasizes how our lives must maintain a balance between the mind, body and spirit; and what happens when we interrupt that balance. It was from Dr. De La Cruz that I learned that flares correlated with the days that I was undergoing a stressful situation; it all made sense!

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