Can Stress Lead to Autoimmune Disease?


News flash! According to estimates by the AARDA, over 50 million Americans have various autoimmune diseases. What is even more shocking, nearly half of these cases emanate from unidentified causes. Moreover, the triggers of most autoimmune diseases remain unknown. 

However, a 2007 study suggests a strong link between stress and autoimmune disease. Stress could be one of the leading causes of autoimmune disease thus avoiding stressful situations and taking measures to reduce stress are vital in managing the symptoms of these chronic disorders.

What is an Autoimmune Disease?

When you become ill because of a bacterial or viral infection, your body’s immune system responds immediately by releasing white blood cells to fight the foreign cells. 

However, when it comes to autoimmune disease, the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells. Autoimmune disease forces the immune system to treat healthy cells as invaders, subsequently fighting them with the same response as when fighting disease-causing pathogens. This leads to severe symptoms such as chronic pain and tissue damage.

Your immune system consists of a finely balanced and regulated network of hormones, neurotransmitters, and receptors. Any triggers, whether internal or environmental, can throw this network into disarray. The triggers in autoimmune disease can be genetic, but environmental factors such as stress top the list as some of the leading causes of autoimmune disorders.

The Relation Between Stress and Autoimmune Disease

It is normal for us humans to become stressed at some point in our lives. In any case, not all stress is harmful. However, chronic stress can be dangerous to your health as it can trigger a fight or flight response and call your immune system into action.

Stress caused by traumatic experiences or similar situations may prolong the time your body responds. Your stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol will surge for long periods even if there is no apparent danger or threat. This will throw your immune system off balance and cause it to mistakenly release white blood cells to fight a non-existent disease. When this happens, you will start exhibiting symptoms of various autoimmune disorders.

Research shows that up to 80 percent of patients living with autoimmune disease often experience unusual emotional stress before the onset of the disorder. Then again, children going through stress are more likely to develop an autoimmune disorder when they become adults. This explains why stress is a likely trigger of autoimmune diseases.

Why Stress Management is Good for You

Let’s face it. Chronic stress is not the only likely cause of autoimmune disease. Other factors like poor gut health, exposure to toxins, and dietary problems also play a huge role in the development of autoimmune disorders. 

However, the strong connection between stress and autoimmune disorders means that stress-relieving activities like regular exercise, relaxation, yoga, and meditation can help reduce the symptoms of the disease. The good news is that these activities do not have to be intense. Five minutes of deep breathing or a class of yoga a week can make the difference.

Stress management can go a long way to reduce the symptoms and improve the quality of life of people living with autoimmune disease.

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