Stress, even acute stress, is a natural part of life; it’s what has gotten us through evolution as a species. When the body perceives a threat, it activates the fight-or-flight response in an effort to protect you. Stress can impact your health more than you think. However, this response is part of a primitive construct. It’s not tempered to account for whether or not something is truly life-threatening — an e-mail can now elicit the same bodywide red alarm as an alligator.
A constant bombardment of stress can take a toll on every major biological system in the body — including the immune system.
How Are Stress and the Immune System Connected?
While we know that stress plays a role in immunity, research is still ongoing into the mechanisms behind this relationship.
Experts know that stress can trigger your body’s inflammatory response in an effort to keep invading germs from making you sick. But chronic stress can prolong the immune response and even contribute to cardiovascular diseases including heart disease. Additionally, high cortisol levels due to stress can make it harder for your body to control inflammation.
Chronic stress can prolong the immune response and even contribute to cardiovascular diseases including heart disease.
There’s even emerging evidence that stress can impact your gut microbiota, affecting your body’s immune response. Stress can also cause physical changes including stress belly. This tridirectional relationship is known as the immune-gut-brain axis. A change in your gut biome can lead to an underactive immune system, which may explain why people seem to get sick so easily during stressful life events, like around the holidays.
Can Being Stressed Affect My Immune System?
Research suggests that higher prolonged stress levels may weaken your immune system and cause accelerated immune aging prematurely, meaning it becomes slower to respond.
One study that analyzed blood sample data from over 5,000 U.S. adults over 50 found that those with more stress in their life had more tired-out white blood cells than healthy ones primed for fighting off disease. And that’s even after controlling for potential other contributing factors like smoking or drinking. Healthy white blood cells, called T-cells, play an important role in your body’s ability to identify and respond to pathogens. Without them, your body can’t recognize invading substances like viruses or bacteria or properly mount defenses against them.
In short, stress can absolutely wear out your immune system’s ability to fend off pathogens like germs.
How to Manage Stress to Support the Immune System?
The 2022 study mentioned above also found that people with more stress in their lives were more likely to have sedentary lifestyles and poor diets. The good news, according to researchers? It’s possible to slow stress-related immune imbalances by making healthy habit changes.
Tweaking your diet to include more whole plant-based foods gives your body the vitamins and trace minerals it needs to fortify itself against stress and boost your immune system.
Eating foods that support a balanced gut microbiome can also influence immune function.
Probiotic and prebiotic foods that can help maintain healthy gut bacteria include:
- Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha
- Yogurt with active cultures
- Garlic, onions, and leeks
Getting your heart pumping is another way to support immune health.
Managing stress can also help balance your immunity, and make it easier to incorporate healthy habits into your everyday routines. There are numerous ways to relieve stress naturally and with supplements. In addition to exercise for stress-busting, other ways to keep your day-to-day stress levels manageable include:
- Talk it out. Feeling overwhelmed? Talk to a friend, family member, or mental health professional. Having open and honest conversations about how you’re feeling may make it easier to cope.
- Head to bed. Most people need at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Quality rest is crucial for maintaining healthy cortisol levels, which can prevent chronic inflammation.
- Meditating. Making space for quiet reflection is a proven stress-coping method. Slow, deep breathing, with longer exhales than inhales, can activate your vagus nerve and control your body’s fight or flight response.
- Spend time in nature. A dose of the outdoors might do wonders for your stress levels, according to one 2020 review. Even better, try working out outside for a double dose of stress-banishing benefits.
Adding Vitamins to Help Manage Stress & Balance Your Immune System
Even if you eat a whole food, plant-rich diet, it can be challenging to get all of your essential nutrients through food alone. Modern agricultural practices and soil depletion mean that a lot of produce doesn’t have the same nutrient content as it did a hundred years ago. That’s why it’s so important to include vitamins to relieve stress:
- Vitamin C. By supporting cell function and defense against pathogens and preventing oxidative stress, Vitamin C can help enhance your immune system. There’s also evidence that Vitamin C might positively affect mood. To ensure absorption, opt for Liposomal Vitamin C, which has better bioavailability.
- Vitamin D. This nutrient is essential for a balanced immune system. While your skin produces Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, various factors can impact your Vitamin D levels, including getting fewer daylight hours in the fall and winter.
- Zinc. Your body needs Zinc to support healthy immune function. In fact, it’s essential for the development and function of immune cells. Research also suggests that low levels of Zinc can contribute to mood disorders like depression, and that supplementation may help with symptoms. Because your body can run into trouble absorbing Zinc, look for a chelated form (bound to an amino acid), which improves bioavailability.
- Beta-Glucans. Beta-glucans are plant-based soluble fibers that research has shown may help your body fortify itself against illness and the negative effects of stress. Their source — they’re derived from fungi, oats, yeast, bacteria, and algae — can influence their function, stability, and quality.
Modern agricultural practices and soil depletion mean that a lot of produce doesn’t have the same nutrient content as it did a hundred years ago.SuperPower® is a clinical strength blend of these 4 immune fundamentals to help support the body during periods of stress and support healthy immunity. 100% U.S. sourced and formulated with only organic, liposomal, chelated, and mushroom-based ingredients.
- Afzali A, et al. (2021). A randomized clinical trial of the effect of zinc supplement on depression and anxiety in the elderly. htps://openpublichealthjournal.com/VOLUME/14/PAGE/537/FULLTEXT/
- Bains JS, et al. (2022). Stress and immunity — the circuit makes the difference. htps://www.nature.com/articles/s41590-022-01276-1
- Burgstahler MS, et al. (2020). Effects of guided mindfulness meditation on anxiety and stress in a pre-healthcare college student population: A pilot study. htps://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30939081/
- Carr AC, et al. (2017). Vitamin C and immune function. htps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5707683/
- Devi S, et al. (2021). Adrenergic regulation of the vasculature impairs leukocyte interstitial migration and suppresses immune responses. htps://www.cell.com/immunity/fulltext/S1074-7613(21)00137-0?_returnURL=https%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS1074761321001370%3Fshowall%3Dtrue
- Klopack ET, et al. (2022). Social stressors associated with age-related T lymphocyte percentages in older US adults: Evidence from the US Health and Retirement Study. htps://www.pnas.org/doi/full/10.1073/pnas.2202780119
- McCabe D, et al. (2017). The impact of essential fatty acid, B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc supplementation on stress levels in women: A systematic review. htps://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28178022/
- McEwen BS, et al. (2017). Neurobiological and systemic effects of chronic stress. htps://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2470547017692328
- Moritz B, et al. (2020). The role of vitamin C in stress-related disorders. htps://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32745879/
- Nutrition and immunity. (n.d.). htps://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/nutrition-and-immunity/
- Rahar S, et al. (2011). Preparation, characterization, and biological properties of B-glucans. htps://www.japtr.org/article.asp?issn=2231-4040;year=2011;volume=2;issue=2;spage=94;epage=103;aulast=Rahar
- Segerstrom SC, et al. (2006). Psychological stress and the human immune system: A meta-analytic study of 30 years of inquiry. htps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1361287/
- Shuda Q, et al. (2020). Effect of nature exposure on perceived and physiologic stress: A systematic review. htps://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33066853/
- Silveira MP, et al. (2021). Physical exercise as a tool to help the immune system against COVID-19: An integrative review of the current literature. htps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7387807/
- Zinc. (n.d.). htps://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/zinc/