Social stress ages your immune system, the study finds

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, postdoctoral scholar at Leonard. Davis School of Gerontology of the University of Southern California.

“People with higher stress scores had immune profiles that looked older, with lower rates of fresh disease fighters and higher percentages of T-cells consumed,” Klopack said.

T lymphocytes are some of the body’s most important defenders, and they perform several key functions. Killer T cells can directly eliminate cancer and virus-infected cells and help eliminate 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, Klopack and his team also found they also had fewer “ingenious” T cells, which are the young, fresh cells needed to deal with 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 Suzanne Segerstrom, who was not involved in the study.

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

“In one of our most recent studies … older people with more psychological resources had” younger, “T cells, Segerstrom said.

Bad health behaviors

Klopack’s study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analyzed the 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 on economic stress. health, marital, and family members in older Americans.

People in the study were asked questions about their social stress levels, which included “stressful life events, chronic stress, everyday discrimination, and discrimination over the course of life,” Klopack said. Their responses were then compared to the levels of T cells found in the blood tests.

“This is the first time that detailed information on immune cells has been gathered in a large national survey,” said Klopack. “We found that older adults with low percentages of naïve cells and high percentages of older T cells have older immune systems.”

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

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

However, when poor diet and lack of exercise were taken into account, part of the link between social stress levels and aging immune systems disappeared.

This finding indicates that how much our immune system ages when we are stressed is under our control, Klopack said.

How Stress Affects the Brain

As stress hormones flood the body, neural circuits in the brain change, affecting our ability to think and make decisions, experts say. Anxiety increases and mood can change. All of these neurological changes impact the entire body, including our autonomic, metabolic, and immune systems.

“The most common stressors are those that operate chronically, often at a low level, and that cause us to behave in certain ways. For example, being” stressed “can cause us to be anxious and / or depressed, lose sleep during at night, eating comfort foods and getting more calories than our bodies need, and smoking or drinking alcohol excessively, “noted neuroendocrinologist Bruce McEwen in a 2017 review of the impact of stress on the brain. .
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McEwen, who made the historic discovery in 1968 that the brain’s hippocampus can be modified by stress hormones such as cortisol, died in 2020 after 54 years of neuroendocrinology research at Rockefeller University in New York City.

“Being ‘stressed’ can also make us neglect to see friends, or take a break from our work, or reduce our commitment to regular physical activity while, for example, sitting at the computer and trying to get out of too many burdens. to do, “wrote McEwen.

What to do

There are ways to stop stress in its tracks. Deep breathing increases our parasympathetic nervous system, the opposite of answer “escape or fight”. Filling your belly with air up to six will ensure you breathe deeply. Moving your body like it’s in slow motion is another way to activate that calming reflex, experts say.
Stop your stressful and anxious thinking with cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. 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 is typically a short-term treatment, experts say.
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