The mental cost of trauma

A study has found that social stress increases the immune system’s lifespan prematurely

Immune aging can lead to cancer, heart disease and other age-related health conditions and reduce the effectiveness of vaccines, such as Covid-19, said lead author Eric Klopack, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Southern California’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.

“People with higher stress scores have older-looking immune profiles, with lower proportions of new disease fighters and higher proportions of degraded T cells,” Klopak said.

T cells are among the body’s most important defenders, performing many key functions. “Killer” T cells can directly eliminate virus-infected and cancerous cells, and help get rid of so-called “zombie cells,” senescent cells that no longer divide but refuse to die.

In addition to finding that people who reported higher stress levels had more zombie cells, Klopak and his team also found that they also had fewer “naive” T cells, the newly created cells needed to confront new invaders.

“This paper adds to the findings that psychological stress on the one hand, and well-being and resources on the other, are associated with immune aging,” said clinical psychologist Susan Segerstrom, who was not involved in the study.

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Segerstrom, professor of developmental, social, and health psychology at the University of Kentucky at Lexington, has studied the relationship between self-regulation, stress, and immune function.

“In one of our most recent studies… Older adults with more psychic resources had ‘younger’ T cells,” Segerstrom said.

bad health behaviors

The Klopak study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analyzed blood biomarkers of 5,744 adults over the age of 50 collected as part of the Health and Retirement Study, a long-term national study of economic, health, marital and family stresses in older Americans.

Study participants were asked questions about their levels of social stress, which included “stressful life events, chronic stress, daily discrimination and lifelong discrimination,” Klopak said. Their responses were then compared with the levels of T cells found in blood tests.

“It’s the first time that detailed information on immune cells has been collected in a large national survey,” Klopak said. “We found that older adults with lower proportions of naive cells and higher proportions of older T cells had older immune systems.”

T cells are activated by dendritic cells to trigger an immune response.

The study found that the association between stressful life events and fewer naive T cells remained strong even after controlling for education, smoking, drinking, weight, and race or ethnicity, Klopak said.

However, when poor diet and lack of exercise were taken into account, some of the relationship between levels of social stress and an aging immune system disappeared.

This finding suggests that how well our immune system progresses when we are stressed is under our control, Klopak said.

How does stress affect the brain?

Experts say that as the body is flooded with stress hormones, neural circuits in the brain change, affecting our ability to think and make decisions. Anxiety rises and mood may change. All of these neurological changes affect the whole body, including our autonomic, metabolic, and immune systems.

“The most common stressors are those that run chronically, often at a low level, and that cause us to act in certain ways. For example, ‘stress’ may lead to feelings of anxiety or depression, or to losing sleep at night, to eating comfort foods and taking in more calories than our bodies need, and smoking or drinking excessively,” noted neuroendocrinologist Bruce McEwen wrote in a 2017 review of the effect of stress on the brain.
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McEwen, who made the landmark discovery in 1968 that the brain’s hippocampus can be altered by stress hormones like cortisol, died in 2020 after 54 years of research in neuroendocrinology at Rockefeller University in New York City.

Feeling ‘stressed’ may also lead to neglecting to see friends, taking time off from our work, or reducing our participation in regular physical activity, where we sit, for example, in front of a computer and try to get out from under the load of too much to do, McQueen wrote.

What do I do

There are ways to stop stress in its tracks. Deep breathing raises the level of the parasympathetic nervous system, unlike The “flight or fight” response. Filling your stomach with air to the count of six will ensure that you are breathing deeply. Experts say moving your body as if it were in slow motion is another way to trigger a calming reaction.
Interrupt your stressful and anxious thinking with cognitive behavioral therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy. It has been shown in randomized clinical trials to relieve depression, anxiety, obsessive thinking, eating and sleep disorders, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and more. This practice It tends to focus more on the present than the past, and it’s usually a short-term treatment, experts say.
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