This is a fascinating way to look at your health. Your age and certain parts of your body are not always the same. For example, if you jogged regularly on the pavement for 10 years, your knees could be "older than the rest" of your body. Your teeth could be more "younger" if you maintain good oral hygiene. If you are constantly under stress, your immune system may be older than your body.
New research by the University of Southern California (USC) has shown that stress, whether it is from traumatic events, discrimination or day-to-day stressors, can increase the ageing of your immune system. An aging immune system can increase a person's chance of developing age-related illnesses such as heart disease, cancer and arthritis much earlier than they should.
Research: The Reason
According to the USC researchers, the age of your immune system is often reflected in your age. The immune system of a young adult has a healthy balance in white blood cells, antibodies, cytokines and other helper molecules. Antibodies are proteins that have the ability to bind to foreign toxins and bacteria. Cytokines, messenger proteins, help to mount an immune response.
Adults in middle age tend to have fewer immune cells called "naive", or cells that have never been exposed. They also have higher levels of cytokines which can cause inflammation. (The reason? (The reason? These zombies instead continue to make cytokines which promote inflammation. These realities are normal part of aging.
The immune system of older adults is less predictable. The USC researchers explained that some older adults' immune systems seem older than their rest. They may have low immune cells and inflammation which could contribute to chronic diseases.
Why is it that some older adults may have immune systems that appear "older" than what they really are? Researchers believe that these older adults are more stressed.
The Link Between Stress and Poor Immunity
The USC team collected data from 5,641 Americans over 50 to test their theory. Participants completed a questionnaire that assessed their social stress levels. Social stressors could include life events, chronic stress and everyday discrimination.
The researchers then collected blood samples from participants and analysed them. The blood samples showed not only the white blood cell count but also the types and quality of immune cells.
According to the study, people who had higher stress scores had older immune systems. Stress was associated with low levels of young, useful immune cells, and high levels potentially dangerous, old immune cells. Remember that naive immune cell are those cells that have not been exposed to foreign invaders.
What could stress do to the immune system, and how can it accelerate its aging? Researchers point to studies that have shown that social stress directly impacts the immune system. It can increase inflammation and decrease immunity to pathogens.
The research should be taken with a grain o' salt. Participants who were more stressed had poor eating habits and exercise habits. Their immune systems accelerated due to poor nutrition and insufficient exercise.
What does this mean for you?
It is important to understand how stress affects your health. Consider the stressors in you life. Are you experiencing (or have experienced) any of these?
- Traumatic events, such as the death of a family member
- Work stress (such as working late and constantly)
- High-stress environments at work or home
Your immunity may suffer if you are exposed to more stressors. Make positive changes in your daily life to reduce stress. You can then identify the most stressful areas in your life and make a list. Next, identify one or two areas you can improve. Seek out a therapist for concrete ways to relieve stress.
While reducing stress will require patience, time, and effort, there are some positive aspects to it: It can lead to a stronger immune system.
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