Guest article by Amy Wilson
4th Year Naturopathic intern and certified nutritionist
Let’s face it; stress happens. When we experience stress, we go through a type of strain on our mental/emotional state. We all feel emotional stress in different ways. Some individuals might experience shortness of breath, or an uneasy feeling in the stomach. For others, stress might affect their ability to sleep well. It can be a hard concept to grasp; thinking that emotional stress can result in physical feelings of discomfort.
It’s fact that when you are stressed, your body responds. Your body’s natural response is always to protect you from harm, and that’s why we go through physiological responses from stress.
For example, when you are in an undesirable situation that makes you feel uncomfortable, maybe even scared, your body releases a hormone called adrenaline in high doses. Adrenaline gives your body the stamina you need to exit a dangerous situation quickly! These responses we experience are innate, meaning we are born with them. The fact that our body is always on the lookout for us is fantastic! It’s when stress becomes long lasting, and even chronic, that it begins to cause us damage.
Stress reacts and effects both our nervous system and immune systems. These two systems play a vital role in keeping us mentally and physically healthy.
Summing it up
Stress is natural and everyone experiences it. Our body has a natural response to stressful situations that protect us from harm. It’s when stress becomes chronic that we might see a dampening effect on our immune systems and a shift in our mental/emotional state.
Your immune system, in some ways, is like your Central Nervous System (CNS). Both systems send messages all over the body to help protect you. The nervous system protects us from injury by rapidly sending messages to and from different parts of the body. For example, when your fingertips touch a hot surface, a chemical message immediately gets sent to your brain. Your brain interprets this signal as ‘danger’ and will rapidly send a signal out to the body to remove your hand from the hot surface. This type of response is known as a reflex and is something we are innately born with to protect us.
Similarly, when it comes to your immune system, signals sent throughout the body can defend us from a huge variety of illness and disease. For example, an immune cell may interact with a pathogen, such as bacteria, virus or fungus, and in turn, will send out chemical signals all around the body. These chemical signals then activate our immune system to be on guard and to fight off any invading pathogens to prevent us from getting sick. This is just one way our immune system keeps us from danger. Both our CNS and immune system are always on guard to protect us and keep us in good health.
Summing it up
Both our immune systems and our nervous systems have the same job; to protect us. Your nervous system sends out signals all over the body to protect us from physical harm. Your immune system sends out signals as well to protect us from pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and fungi.
Fascinatingly, our CNS has its very own immune system. We call this system the ‘neuro-immune system’. Our neuro-immune system is similar, but slightly different to that of the body’s immune system, as it is separated by the blood brain barrier (BBB). This barrier keeps the brain encased and protected from foreign materials and pathogens. Inside the BBB, the brain contains these really cool cells called microglia. Microglia provide structural support in the brain and provide food to neurons. They are also known to provide immunity support by clearing damaged tissues in the brain through a process called phagocytosis. Phagocytosis is an action that specialised immune cells carry out by gathering up debris in the body and metabolising it so the body can clear it. This is an important job in the brain as it can help clear damaged tissue after injury, that may pose as problematic when it comes to healing. When the brain really needs some extra support, it is able to call upon immune cells from the body that are able to cross the BBB. These cells help support the microglia and maintain the health of the brain. These two immune systems work both separately and together in a delicately balanced symphony, in order to provide constant protection to both your body and mind.
Summing it up
Our brains have immunity of their own. The immune system in the brain is responsible for repairing the brain after injury as well as keeping away pathogens. When the brain needs a little extra immune support, it can call on the body’s immune system to come to its rescue.
When we are stressed, our body produces an inflammatory response. Inflammation, or what we sometimes refer to as swelling, is a natural process. This process happens as a response to injury and stress in the body, and is usually an acute (short lived) response. This process benefits us in times of physical trauma, such as healing a wound, but can start to cause issues for us when it remains for too long. If we are experiencing chronic stress, our inflammatory response can become chronic as well. If the inflammation from stress is chronic, it can be damaging to our body tissues and organs, including the brain. Stress can come from a number of sources, such as negative mental/emotional states, or physical illness. This type of stress dampens the immune system’s ability to respond, and may also cause an imbalance of chemical activity in the brain, which can make us feel uneasy. This response, if not controlled over time, will leave you vulnerable to illness and disease.
Summing it up
Long term stress will weaken your immune response. Chronic stress can cause systemic inflammation which in time can damage tissues and organs. Stress and inflammation need to be managed in order to make you less vulnerable to disease.
Keeping both your immune system and CNS healthy can be done using the same daily practices.
One of the most significant ways to do this is to keep inflammation low. You can do this by eating a healthy diet that is rich in good fats and minerals, such as magnesium, and low in processed foods and sugars. Our diet has a huge impact on our state of inflammation, and by eating a well-balanced diet as often as possible, you will contribute to keeping inflammation low.
Mindful techniques, such as deep breathing, mediation or yoga, are things that can be done daily to decrease inflammation. Bringing a sense of calm to your day will reduce stress, and bring your body to a better state of equilibrium and reduced inflammation. When your body and mind are in balance, your CNS and immune system can function together more optimally to keep you healthy. Never underestimate the physiological benefits of being mindful and taking time to ‘Zen’ out.
Summing it up
When it comes to taking control of your health and managing stress, you can help do this through a healthy diet rich in whole foods and low in processed foods. Daily practises such as mediations, deep breathing or yoga will help bring your body back to a healthy balance.
Isn’t the human body fascinating!? Our organ systems are working 24/7 to try protect us and keep us vital. When it comes to paying our bodies back, we can do this with physical tactics, such as eating clean and exercising. We can also help support our CNS and immunity by practicing mindfulness, such as meditation and deep breathing. It is important to note that we don’t have to strive for ‘perfection’ every single day. Life is like a yoyo; we have our up and down days, and that’s okay too! Take advantage and fill up the good days with nurturing activities and good food for your body. Use the down days to be in the moment and listen to what your body needs. At the end of the day, we want to get as much joy and happiness from this life as we can, and that means keeping ourselves healthy, while still enjoying the ride.
<blockquote><h2>Summing it up</h2>
Life is a yoyo. We all experience stress and sometimes more than other times. As long as we are striving for balance in our day to day, we will better be able to manage the ill effects of stress. The human body is resilient and can overcome and heal from many ailments. Listen to your body, give it what it needs and take everything one day at a time.</blockquote>
Take care, be happy, be healthy.
Your central nervous system (CNS), which is made up of your brain and spinal cord, acts as a coordinator for everything that goes on in the body. The CNS controls both your physiological actions, as well as your thoughts and mental wellbeing.
Your immune system, which is made up of a variety of specialized organs and cells, is your body’s main line of defense against illness and disease. These two particular systems, although separate, are intertwined in numerous ways. Only when your CNS and immune system are complementing each other in a healthy balance, can good health be achieved.
*disclaimer* This is not medical advice. Please consult your primary care provider when making changes to your health routines.