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The role of stress in immune health

The role of stress in immune health


We all know that too much stress in our lives can have adverse effects on our mental and physical health, but have you ever thought of our immune health? As part of our immune-boosting series with Mays Al Ali, nutritional therapist and nutritionist, we dive deep into the role of stress on our immune health.

Stress is a daily part of our lives but when it feels overwhelming and becomes chronic, it can start to take its toll on the immune system.

A stressed body and mind are also more vulnerable to illness due to increased cortisol levels. If your body is producing large amounts of cortisol over time this can lead to an increase in inflammation and decreases in lymphocytes – the white blood cells that help fight off infection. The lower your lymphocyte level, the more at risk you are for viruses.

High-stress levels can also lead to depression and anxiety, again causing increased inflammation in the body and resulting in an overworked and tired immune system.

Try on these stress-busting activities

  • Yoga – Practising yoga lowers stress hormone levels and calms your nervous system to reduce inflammation.
  • Breathing exercises can really help to promote calm in moments of stress and deep breathing helps boost your resistance to infection. Try this one: Breathe in for four, hold for three then let go for six. Try and keep your breath in your belly as you expand on the inhale. Take each breath with intention and presence and really concentrate on each count.  Pranayama is another way of counting your breath to influence your body, calm the emotions and balance the metabolism.
  • Walking in nature is amazingly restorative and calming. Have you ever hugged a tree before? They have so much love to give and are so grounding.
  • Meditating or practising mindfulness for 10 – 15 minutes a day helps to lower stress levels. Utilising calming or wood/grass based essential oils such as Frankincense or Vetiver helps to reduce your cortisol levels and inflammation
  • A long hot soak in an Epsom salt bath with essential oils is super restorative – try oils like Lavender, Petitgrain, Basil and Coriander – shown to have high levels of Linalool – a naturally occurring compound that helps to reduce cortisol levels.

Reduce toxins

Toxins can negatively impact how effectively our immune cells work which may affect our immune resilience leaving us more susceptible to viruses but it could also go the other way causing our immune system to over-react and start to attack itself leading to autoimmune conditions.

Using greener and cleaner products in your home environment (somewhere that we are spending most of our time in these days) can reduce the toxin exposure your body is exposed to.  This supports your immune system by helping it not to over-react preventing it from producing antibodies to “attack” the allergen.

Improve your sleep

During sleep, our immune system secretes cytokines, a group of proteins that regulate immunity and inflammation. A lack of sleep can adversely impact your immune system due to fewer cytokines being produced. Adequate sleep also supports T cells, a type of immune cell that fights against pathogens.

Practising sleep hygiene can really help to improve the quality and quantity of sleep. It is also important to get between 7-8 hours of sleep a night for optimum energy and immunity levels.

Get into and out of bed at the same time to set a routine. This helps prepare your body for wake and sleep times.

Optimum sleep for immune health

Create a calming sleep environment with a sleep ritual an hour before sleep, eg dimming lights, lighting candles, diffusing essential oils.

Practise meditation or mindfulness, or use relaxing magnesium/Epsom salt baths before bed. Sleep in a cool dark bedroom (ideally with blackout blinds to encourage the production of melatonin our sleep hormone). Remember, no devices/screens in the bedroom, switch off from screen time 2 hours before sleep. Try to avoid heavy meals 4 hours before sleep.

If you feel exhausted or run down, listen to your body and rest up. Do not push yourself with intense exercise, as this will only prolong recovery time.

If you are looking for more immune health tips check out our previous article on how to boost your immune system and have a look at Mays’s website for more.