Inflammation Due to Stress - What You Can Do About It
We know that stress is bad for us, but exactly why and how is it bad for us? A recent study published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A. cites that chronic stress changes the activation of genes in immune cells at the bone marrow level. These cells are primed at the level of the gene, so they are programmed to be even more defensive against external threats, therefore they're even more inflammatory than normal.
Typically, our body’s immune system responds to pathogens with some inflammation. However, in the case of chronic stress, there is no pathogen and the process is mediated by the sympathetic nervous system, triggering an excessive level of inflammation. When this level of inflammation is present with no real protective or healing role, it actually becomes harmful.
So what can we do to both help manage our stress and reverse the negative impact that resulting inflammation has on our bodies?
My two personal favourite approaches are through acupuncture and mindfulness meditation, both effective in reducing stress and mitigating inflammation in the body.
I don’t how many times first-time patients look at me dubiously as I reach for a fresh blister pack of acupuncture needles, reassuring them that acupuncture is very relaxing. It’s a little counter-intuitive that being pinned with tiny needles could be ahem… relaxing. But it really is! Despite any doubts, patients agree as some will joke about wishing they could stay in acupuncture all day when it comes time to take their needles out.
For the super skeptics, there is scientific evidence: click here to read a study that shows acupuncture decreases levels of Neuropeptide Y, a neurotransmitter secreted by the sympathetic nervous system in response to stress.
As for inflammation, when it is systemic, it can manifest physically in numerous different ways. Depending on each individual’s constitution, inflammation can present as poor digestion, pain, headaches, allergies, insomnia, asthma, pms, irregular menstruation, cramps, endometriosis, infertility, recurrent miscarriage …and that’s just to name a few. According to Chinese Medicine, how these disorders manifest collectively maps out whether your body’s imbalance is due to deficiency, blockage, pathogenic heat, stickiness, or any combination of these. Once this pattern is determined, stimulation of specific acupuncture points can support your body to re-balance. Click here to check out a meta-analysis of studies on effective acupuncture treatment of various inflammatory disorders.
The impacts of meditation on stress are more obvious, even if you’ve never tried it, chances are you’ve had some anecdotal exposure to the calming effects of meditation. Especially in today’s fast paced normal, there seems to be a naturally surging movement toward being ‘un-plugged’. People are looking for balance and one of the ways they are finding it is through the practice of being still and present.
A study published in the Journal of Behavioural Medicine in 2014 finds that a group of 174 adults dealing with stress-related problems, illness, anxiety and chronic pain practise mindfulness meditation for 8 weeks and experience symptom reduction as well as improved well-being.
But the positive effects of meditation don’t stop there. Research published in the Journal of Psychoneuroendicrinology in 2014 found that even 8 hours of mindfulness meditation triggers an anti-inflammatory response that is not observed when compared to a control group. Blood samples were taken from two different groups at the beginning and at the end of an 8 hour period. One group was comprised of 19 meditators, who practised mindfulness meditation. The second group was made up of 21 non-meditators who performed leisure activities (like reading and walking) for the same period of time. Despite similar baselines, they found significant down-regulation of pro-inflammatory genes in the meditation group.
So if you’re stressed out and feel like it’s starting to take a toll on your body, acupuncture and mindfulness will cover your bases!
Click here for a free 15 minute consult on how acupuncture can help you.
Join myself and counselor Elana Sures for our next free Mindbody Talk. We’ll be sharing some tips on how to mindfully deal with the stresses of dealing with fertility issues.
Dr. Alda Ngo