Throughout the entire body system, everything is connected. From the gut to the brain, to the hormones all the way to the immune system, every system has a specific job to make sure that the body is working properly. When there are unknown pathogens that affect the body drastically, it can cause the body to be dysfunctional and cause chronic illnesses to come up. In this 3 part series, we will be taking a look at how stress and the immune-brain connection work together as well as seeing how the adrenal glands play into this. Part 2 will be discussing what is hypercortisolism and its symptoms affecting the body. And finally, part 3 will be taking a look at the immune system and natural remedies to lower cortisol levels. By referring patients to qualified and skilled providers who specialized in hormone wellness services and we advise our patients to appropriately refer to our associated medical providers based on their examination. We find that education is the key when asking valuable questions to our providers. Dr. Jimenez DC provides this information as an educational service only. Disclaimer
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What Is Stress?
So stress plays a major influence in a person’s day-to-day life. It affects not only a person’s mood but their well-being, their behavior, and their health. Stress has two categories where it can affect the body and can either be beneficial or harmful depending on the two categories. They are acute stress and chronic stress. So acute stress isn’t harmful to the body and it usually comes when someone is worried about a big test that is coming up or a job interview that they have. This type of stress can increase hormonal production and release it into the correct body systems giving them a little boost of energy.
However, chronic stress is due to long-term triggers that have affected the body. These long-term triggers can range from depression to trauma depending on what the person is suffering from. Chronic stress can shift the levels of blood pressure in the body and can cause plaque formation in the arteries and damage them. When this happens the body can suffer tremendously and the individual can develop chronic illnesses. Another set of terms for acute and chronic stress is allostasis and allostatic load.
So allostasis is the ability to achieve stability through change and it is critical to survival. The stress system helps protect the body by responding to internal and external stress. Studies have found that allostasis can help with the adaptive process of acute stress by maintaining the homeostasis of mediator productions like adrenaline, cortisol, and other chemicals that the body naturally produces.
Allostasis can help the body by providing support to:
- Autonomic nervous system
- Hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis
- Cardiovascular and metabolic systems
- Immune systems
Allostasis can even help increase the glucocorticoids and epinephrine in the body to help promote protective effects on adaptive stressors that the body encounters.
Allostatic load is the price of accommodation to the collective burden that results from chronic overactivity or under activity of allostatic systems. The wear and tear of the body and the brain is the result of chronic overactivity or inactivity of physiological systems that are normally involved in adaptation to environmental challenges. This can be numerous factors that can cause an allostatic load on the body. There can be frequent exposures that can cause this burden to be placed upon the body. Environmental challenges can cause the brain to overwork itself while physiological consequences that are the result of health-damaging behaviors like circadian disruption and an unhealthy diet can affect the body. So when the HPA axis is either overworked or fails to shut off after stressful events or when normal compensatory systems overreact this is the result of allostatic load.
The Adrenal Glands
The adrenal glands are two triangle-shaped organs that are located on top of the kidneys. Their job is to secrete out the hormone adrenaline, which is the hormone that will help prepare the body to be active in any stressful situation. There are two parts of the adrenal glands that help the production of hormones that are being released into the body. The adrenal cortex is located on the outer region of the adrenal gland and produces the hormone cortisol, which is the stress hormone, and DHEA, which is the sex hormone. The second part is the adrenal medulla and which is located in the inner region of the adrenal gland and it produces adrenaline and nonessential hormones.
The Adrenal Hormone Functions
With the adrenal glands producing the necessary hormones for the body, it is important that they have to be regulated in order for the necessary organs to do their job. The adrenal gland’s function and the hormone they produce helps maintain the salt balance in the bloodstream and muscle tissues. They also help control the body’s sex hormones in both male and female bodies. Two of the main hormones that the adrenal gland produces for the body are cortisol and DHEA.
Cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands and helps regulate protein, carbohydrate, lipid, and nucleic acid metabolism in the body. The cortisol hormone help elevate both blood sugar and blood pressure in the body, while also increasing protein catabolism and inhibition of protein synthesis. Cortisol is widely known as the body’s stress hormone and is the main glucocorticoid that is released into the body and is anti-inflammatory which helps cytokine suppression. Cortisol has many beneficial properties that help the body including:
- Decreased antibody production
- Suppresses release of growth hormone
- Aid bone loss
- Increases gastric acid production
- Inhibits production of nucleic acids (except liver RNA)
- Mobilizes fatty acids
DHEA or dehydroepiandrosterone is the precursor to sex hormones and is the most abundant hormone produced by the adrenal cortex. it helps activate endothelial nitric oxide synthase and is directly bound to NMDA and GABA receptors in the brain. Studies have shown that DHEA helps modulate the body’s cardiovascular signaling pathways while also exerting out anti-inflammatory effects. Some of the other beneficial properties that DHEA provides include:
- Lowers triglycerides
- Improves insulin sensitivity
- Promotes a sense of well being
- Maintains tissue strength and repair
- Direct action on immune cells
- Promotes bone growth
How is Stress and the Immune System Connected?
Since the body has many functions that help make sure that the body is performing its optimal best and with stress, it is connected to the immune system. Stress plays a huge role and correlates to the immune system by sending signals to the brain. Studies have shown that the influence of stress on the immune system is mediated not only by glucocorticoids but also by growth hormones. Just like how the gut and brain are connected, stress and the immune system go hand in hand to make sure that the hormone levels are balanced and are coordinating behavioral and physiological responses to any inflammation and infections in the body.
All in all, the body needs a combination of stress and hormones in order to function its immune system. The immune system helps the body fight off viral infections and bacteria that can harm the body and the combination of the stress hormone that is being secreted to the immune system will help the body give an extra boost of immunity. When there is an overabundance or underabundance of hormones in the body, it can cause problems and complications to the body that can lead to chronic illness. But when the hormones are regulated and functioning normally, the body can live a happy healthy life.
Dantzer, R, and K W Kelley. “Stress and Immunity: An Integrated View of Relationships between the Brain and the Immune System.” Life Sciences, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1989, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2568569/.
Guidi, Jenny, et al. “Allostatic Load and Its Impact on Health: A Systematic Review.” Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 14 Aug. 2020, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32799204/.
McEwen, Bruce S. “Stressed or Stressed out: What Is the Difference?” Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience: JPN, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sept. 2005, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1197275/.
Rutkowski, Krzysztof, et al. “Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA): Hypes and Hopes.” Drugs, U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2014, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25022952/.
Sargis, Robert M. “Adrenal Glands: Definition, Function, Adrenal Gland …” Endocrineweb, 5 Jan. 2021, www.endocrineweb.com/endocrinology/overview-adrenal-glands.
Schneiderman, Neil, et al. “Stress and Health: Psychological, Behavioral, and Biological Determinants.” Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2005, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2568977/.
Thau, Lauren, et al. “Physiology, Cortisol.” StatPearls [Internet]., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 6 Sept. 2021, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538239/.
The information herein on "Taking A Look At Stress & The Immune Brain Connection | Part 1" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional, or licensed physician, and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make your own healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.
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