Since covid, immunity has been front of mind more than ever! However, immunity is not only crucial to fight off the bad bugs and to keep us feeling well. Immunity also plays a role in the risk of onset of age-related disease such as cardiovascular disease.
Specifically, as we age, our immune system starts to decline, making us more susceptible to these health conditions.
The rate of decline is different for everybody and to understand the ageing immune system better, new research has looked at how exposure to every day stresses may accelerate this decline.
The study involved 5,744 US adults aged over 50. Exposure to stress was measured using questionnaires. The researchers defined social stress as difficult or challenging circumstances that arise from social position and experience that are expected to be stressful, that occur in adulthood. Specifically, the questionnaire categories were; stressful life events, chronic stress, everyday discrimination and life trauma.
Once the questionnaires were completed, blood samples were taken from participants to analyse immune function.
Without getting technical, overall results of the study showed exposure to social stress was associated with accelerated immune ageing. All results were independent of age, sex and race/ethnicity. However, for one immune marker, became insignificant, when taking into account factors such as smoking, BMI and alcohol. Past research has shown that these factors alone affect immunity.
It is postulated that exposure to stress, which causes activation of the sympathoadrenal and hypothalamic pituitary adrenal systems, results in DNA damage, inflammation and shortening of telomere length. This cellular stress and DNA damage can cause cellular senescence, which can lead to tissue and organ dysfunction and age-related illness.
This study does have some limitations, but it is a timely and important reminder of the importance of paying attention to stress levels. This is especially as we are now into the second half of the year and as we age.
Stress reduction practices should form part of our everyday routine. It is also a reminder that along with stress, a healthy diet, regular exercise, low alcohol consumption, not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight also play a role in immune function and stress reduction.
I have shared my stress reduction techniques may times before as they are so important to overall health and happiness. If you need a reminder or want to check you are on the right track, please click HERE