- Alarmed immune cells
- Chronic stress weakens the defense
- Stress brake sport
- The fatal power of negative feelings
- Positive energy boost
- Hyperactive immune cells
- Allergieschub by stress
Fear, anger, stress - negative feelings can weaken the immune system. Those who are optimistic, on the other hand, become less ill and recover faster. The reason: brain and immune system are constantly in constant exchange. The communication takes place via hormones, such as the stress hormone cortisol. Conversely, the defense cell cells also produce messenger substances called interleukins. They control the activity of the immune system. At the same time, large amounts of interleukins in the blood signal to the brain that, for example, an infection is raging in the body. Then it raises the body temperature and ensures that the patient feels flabby and listless - and therefore spared. If the brain registers that the interleukin level and thus the activity of the immune system is too massive, it reduces the immune system again.
The communication medium is the vegetative nervous system, which transmits messages from the body to the brain and vice versa.
Alarmed immune cells
The brain usually responds to acute stress by allowing the adrenal glands to release more cortisol. The stress hormone initially alerts the non-specific immune defense, which includes the natural killer cells. They are the body's first line of defense, rendering bacteria, viruses and fungi harmless. In acute stress, larger amounts circulate in the blood. This reaction makes evolutionary biological sense: Stress was once primarily a reaction to dangerous situations. In these, the risk of injury is particularly large - and thus the risk that pathogens can penetrate into the body via wounds.
Chronic stress weakens the defense
Chronic stress, however, has a different effect: the cortisol level in the blood is permanently increased. The stress hormone docks on receptors that sit on the surface of certain white blood cells. As a result, the cells release less interleukin-1-beta. This messenger substance normally stimulates the immune cells to proliferate. Interleukin-1-beta also increases the activity of natural killer cells and promotes the production of antibodies that are specific to certain pathogens. If the level of the messenger substance drops, the power of the immune system also decreases.
Anyone who is constantly under power does not have to be surprised if he is repeatedly paralyzed by an infection. In stressful times sweep the herpes blisters again, the causative agents are normally kept in check by the immune system. Even wounds heal slower when the injured person is stressed.
Stress brake sport
Anything that counteracts stress, on the other hand, strengthens the immune system. Sport, for example, causes the cortisol level in the blood to drop. Regular physical activity thus strengthens the immune system. It is different, however, when the physical effort is so great that it degenerates into stress. Then it weakens the immune system. After a marathon, for example, athletes are particularly susceptible to infectious diseases.
Therefore, targeted relaxation techniques, such as autogenic training, progressive muscle relaxation or mindfulness exercises, also have a supportive effect on the immune system.
The fatal power of negative feelings
Negative feelings also cause problems for the immune system. People who suffer from depression or anxiety are therefore more susceptible to infections. How significant this influence is, among other things, studies with cancer patients. In one study, half of breast cancer patients who also suffered from depression died within five years - but only a quarter of those who were not depressed. The reason for this could be that mentally stable patients have more natural killer cells in their blood, which in addition to pathogens also detect and neutralize degenerate cells.
Positive energy boost
Positive emotions can strengthen the immune system and even improve the chances of cancer recovery. Psycho-oncology is therefore concerned with absorbing the mental stress associated with cancer. As part of the treatment, positive thoughts are strengthened through behavioral techniques and negative thoughts are defused. There are also visualization techniques that create a positive mood.
Hyperactive immune cells
The immune system is not always dampened by mental stress and stress. In some cases, mental pressure can also cause the immune system to overreact. Depression, chronic stress and suppressed anger can worsen existing autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and the inflammatory bowel disease ulcerative colitis. The reason for this is a lack of cortisol, experts say. Because cortisol normally inhibits the production of interleukin-2. Conversely, if the cortisol level is low, interleukin-2 production increases. This increasingly calls for T cells that also attack the body's own cells in the context of autoimmune diseases.Among other things, this theory is supported by observations that in some pregnant women with rheumatoid arthritis the symptoms disappear at once. The possible reason: During pregnancy the cortisol level increases.
Allergieschub by stress
A similar mechanism can make the symptoms of allergic diseases worse under stress. These include eczema and asthma. The immune system is over-stimulated and produces larger amounts of immunoglobulin E. In the case of allergic patients, these antibodies attach themselves to the mast cells, which then release histamine. The substance causes the typical allergy symptoms such as itching, redness and edema.
Learning a relaxation exercise can therefore make life easier for allergy sufferers. Asthma patients suffer less often attacks, the skin of atopic dermatitis patients improves and also hay fever sufferers benefit according to studies.