As many as 50 million Americans are living with autoimmune disease—and at least 50 percent of cases are triggered by unknown factors. Now, a growing body of research reveals that stress may be the driving force behind autoimmune disease—and practices to reduce stress can be an important part of managing these chronic conditions.
Autoimmune Disorders: When the Body Attacks Itself
When disease is caused by external agents such as bacteria or viruses, the body’s immune system springs into action to fight the invader. But in autoimmune disease, the immune system treats the body’s own cells as invaders and attacks them with the same responses. This can cause symptoms such as chronic pain and the breakdown of nerves and tissues.
The immune system is a finely balanced network of neurotransmitters, hormones, and receptors, and triggers from both inside and outside the body can throw it into dysregulation. In autoimmune diseases, those triggers can be genetic (a family tendency to a disorder like lupus), but external environmental factors are either responsible for, or play a role in, about 70 percent of autoimmune conditions. Topping the list of those factors is stress.
How Does Stress Affect Autoimmune Diseases?
Some stress is not harmful—and it can even do us good. But chronic stress, as well as stress caused by trauma or repeated experiences of the same kind of stress, takes a serious toll on the immune system. The well-known “fight or flight” response gives us the tools we need to respond quickly to external threats. Stress hormones like adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol surge, and when the threat is over, they subside again as the body begins to relax.
When stress is severe, as in a traumatic event, or it continues over time, that essential stress response may stay on. Cortisol and the other powerful stress hormones flood the body, throwing the immune system out of balance and causing inflammation that triggers the various symptoms of autoimmune disorders.
Research on the causes of autoimmune disease reveals that up to 80 percent of patients studied reported experiencing unusual emotional stress just before the onset of their disorder. And chronic or repeated stress in childhood can lead to autoimmune disease as an adult.
Stress Management Is Good Medicine
Stress is not the only factor that causes autoimmune disease. Exposure to toxins, dietary factors, and poor gut health can also play a role. But the clear connection between these diseases and stress means that stress-busting strategies like exercise, meditation, and conscious relaxation can ease symptoms—and make life better for anyone living with autoimmune disease.
However, if stress levels are high, stress needs to be carefully managed as well. Stress management techniques may include something as simple as taking a yoga class once a week or five minutes of deep breathing each day.
A comprehensive treatment plan, like the ones offered by the physicians within the BodyLogicMD network, will include solutions for symptom management, as well as target the root causes of the condition.
The practitioners of the BodyLogicMD network are specially trained in integrative medicine and bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. Each practitioner will spend time understanding your concerns and reviewing your symptoms, lab results, and medical history to develop a customized plan that focuses on achieving optimal health and improving your overall quality of life. Contact a physician within the BodyLogicMD network today.