Guest author: Tiffany Lord, a graduate student at San José State University. Tiffany is a masters student at SJSU
Our bodies are resilient to stress and can handle a lot of things that come our way. However, over time our threshold to handle situations become lower. One way that we become less resilient is the chronic stress and inflammation that we endure over time. We become more tired, mentally clouded, achy, and just feeling run down. This is especially not good if we are already dealing with an autoimmune disease. Stress and inflammation play a significant impact in negatively impacting someone with an autoimmune disease
Autoimmune disease? What is it?
Having an Autoimmune disease is when our own body’s immune system attacks itself. As a result, our bodies cannot identify our healthy cells from foreign cells. Instead, our immune system thinks all the cells in our body are foreign. Some autoimmune diseases include Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Inflammatory bowel disease, Multiple sclerosis, Psoriasis, and Type 1 diabetes mellitus.
STRESS AND WHAT IT DOES TO OUR BODY
With the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, we are constantly faced with everyday stressors. Stress happens when there is an adverse change in our life. If we don’t manage our stress well, it can take a toll on our bodies. Therefore, examples of stressors can come from our job, family, friends, and personal responsibilities. In addition, when prolonged stimulation is triggering our immune system, it can cause inflammation.
Stress is associated with higher concentrations of oxygen and nitrogen in our bodies. Having more elevated amounts of oxygen and nitrogen in our body can throw off the imbalance of the antioxidants (protects your body from free radicals) to oxidants in our body, which can damage our tissues and organs. Every person handles stress differently. Some may experience irritability, headache, sleepiness, and some may even experience digestive issues, leading to more stress by not feeling our most significant and continuing the endless cycle.
STRESS AND INFLAMMATION
There is evidence that our liver and fat cells are the primary sources of cytokine productions. Cytokines are small proteins that communicate with our immune system and cause an inflammation response when our body releases them. Physical and psychological stress can activate these cells to let our immune system know that something is wrong, and we must be on the lookout for anything and everything. Research has shown stress can cause an inflammatory response and that an inflammatory response can cause stress.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is part of the body’s defense response to any harmful or unknown things to our body. It’s our body’s way of trying to defend and heal ourselves. Inflammation symptoms include redness, heat, pain, swelling, and sometimes loss of function. While inflammation can cause these symptoms, sometimes inflammation is going on without any symptoms arising. As much as they may seem like a beneficial thing to not feel any symptoms, however, overtime constantly inflammation in the body is a determent to our health and bodily organs.
However, if inflammation lasts for months and years, it becomes chronic inflammation. This can take a toll on your arteries by raising their blood flow (blood pressure) to help the area in need, which leads to more strain on your heart to pump the blood and your organs to manage the uptake in blood pressure. In the end, it is more taxing on your body, and it is working harder for more extended periods. More than half of the deaths worldwide are related and contribute to chronic inflammation diseases.
How is Stress and Inflammation related to autoimmune disease?
Stress and inflammation play a massive part in having an autoimmune disease. The two factors are intertwined within one another. Inflammation can trigger stress or vis vera that inflammation can trigger stress which only inflames autoimmune disease symptoms.
Stress can lead to inflammation, and inflammation can lead to an autoimmune disease. If chronic inflammation occurs, our immune system is on a constant high alert. It starts attacking our healthy cells can cause harmful inflammation that can last for years or even a lifetime.
Common questions regarding the topic and an evidence-based answer
*Does everyone deal with stress the same way?
No, not everyone deals with stress the same way. Some people have a sign and symptoms that let them know that they are dealing with stress. While others show no signs or symptoms, but internally they are still experiencing the same things.
What can we do to Minimize Stress and Inflammation with having an Autoimmune Disease?
There are several ways to minimize stress and inflammation, and here is just a couple of suggestions
Good Nutrition: Having a balanced, nutrient-dense diet can help fuel your mind and body. Some foods you want to incorporate into your diet are bright-colored fruits, dark leafy greens, and omega-three fatty-acid (fish and nuts). Minimize consuming foods that are processed and high in sugar because it can cause inflammation in the body
Take time for yourself: Sometimes, this means saying “no.” As much as we want to do it all, we can’t. Taking time for ourselves can help us “recharge our battery” and relax can help lower our stress levels
Get outside: We are constantly on the move and forget to enjoy the beauty around us. Take ten minutes out of your day to go for a walk. Being outside will let our minds take a break along with getting our bodies moving.
Spend time with the ones you love: Research shows hanging out with the ones you love helps make you feel happier. They can increase your sense of purpose and belonging and even cope with any traumas or stressors in your life.
To sum it all up, make sure you take time of your day to do things that make you happy. Stress is a constant in everyone’s life, but it depends on your deal with it. We must be mindful of our bodies and remember to slow down and even say “no” if it means it will cause less stress in our life. We can’t forget to get outside and get some fresh air and get our bodies moving. The less stress in your life, the less inflammation you will cause to flare up your autoimmune disease.
Eating Well for Mental Health. Sutter Health. (n.d.). Retrieved November 20, 2021, from https://www.sutterhealth.org/health/nutrition/eating-well-for-mental-health.
Foods that fight inflammation. Harvard Health. (2021, November 16). Retrieved November 20, 2021, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation.
Gawda, A., Majka, G., Nowak, B., & Marcinkiewicz, J. (2017). Air pollution, oxidative stress, and exacerbation of autoimmune diseases. Central-European journal of immunology, 42(3), 305–312. https://doi.org/10.5114/ceji.2017.70975
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2019, August 24). The health benefits of good friends. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved November 20, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/friendships/art-20044860#:~:text=Increase%20your%20sense%20of%20belonging,death%20of%20a%20loved%20one.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Inflammation. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Retrieved November 20, 2021, from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/inflammation/index.cfm.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2018, February 22). What is inflammation? InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Retrieved November 20, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279298/.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2021, October 15). Stress. MedlinePlus. Retrieved November 20, 2021, from https://medlineplus.gov/stress.html.