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The Role Stress Plays In Autoimmune Diseases

Varying factors exist that cause autoimmune diseases. However, at the core of every autoimmune disease lies the root of the problem.  Getting to the root, and being proactive with treatment possibly helps to reverse autoimmune diseases.  Certainly, knowing the root helps to treat it.  Today, chronic stress is always present.  People worry about their children, bills, jobs, health, and many other aspects of their lives. Physical, mental, and emotional stress triggers and exacerbates autoimmune diseases.  There are several different methods in which stress affects the immune system.

Acute Stress and Autoimmune Diseases

Acute stress is “on-the-spot” stressors.  For example, narrowly avoiding being in a car accident is acute stress.  Having to speak in front of people if you have a fear of public speaking is another example. When these situations occur, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. This hormone “tells” your immune system to prepare for a threat.  Your immune system, then produces inflammation until the cortisol alerts that the danger has passed.  Acute stress occurs suddenly and then passes.  It is believed that this type of stress does not have an effect on autoimmune diseases.  Chronic stress, however, is a major contributor.

Chronic Stress and Autoimmune Diseases

Chronic stress occurs in environments such as working long hours, relationship problems, poor nutrition habits, constant sleep deprivation, and severe anxiety.  It is this chronic stress that often causes autoimmune diseases. When chronic stress is present in your life, your immune system never gets to rest or “turn off.”  With your inflammatory immune response activated for a long time, it eventually goes awry and begins attacking your bodily tissues.  It doesn’t take very long for your stress hormones to try to restrain your body’s response.  Unfortunately, it’s overdone and leaves you with a weakened immune system.  At the same time, your body becomes inflamed, and makes you vulnerable to infections.  If infections become active, they destroy tissue which prompts a greater immune response. This leads to your body releasing even more cortisol, which provokes more infection. Sadly, the cycle goes on and on, and your body suffers for it.

It Is Not All in Your Head 

Like most, you probably feel that all the stress is just in your head. However, a large number of patients report uncommon emotional stress levels, just before their autoimmune disease presents.  Further, the stress of having the disease is known to cause autoimmune disease exacerbation.  Chronically elevated cortisol may cause “cortisol resistance” and diminish your body’s ability to control inflammation resulting in inflammatory diseases.  This is why cortisol levels tend to be low in patients with autoimmune disease, despite having higher levels of systemic inflammation.

What You Can Do

The first step, of course, is to try to reduce the amount of chronic stress in your life.  Working too many hours?  Cut down on them.  Relationship problems?  Communicate to resolve them or rid yourself of the problem.  Physical activity such as yoga also may help as will meditation.  Eating properly and eliminating all glutens also helps to decrease your stress levels.

For more information and further help with your stress levels and your autoimmune disease, contact Avicenna Integrative Medicine at (770) 977-9300.  We will work with you in a collaborative approach to reduce your stress levels in a dedicated, energetic effort to reverse and/or treat your autoimmune disease.