Stress caused by traumatic events, job strain, relationships, discrimination, or everyday stressors likely accelerates the aging of the immune system.
At least, that is the finding from a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The accelerated immune aging may increase the risk for a host of chronic conditions and viral infections.
Age typically brings on a natural decrease in immune strength, which can be rapid. The downgrade is known as immunosenescence and is marked by too many worn-out white blood cells and not enough fresh ones to help take out potential threats.
Researchers analyzed responses from questionnaires from a national sample of 5,744 adults over 50 designed to assess their experience with social stress. It covered stressful life events, chronic stress, everyday discrimination, and lifetime discrimination.
Blood samples were also extracted and examined.
As expected, people with higher stress scores had older-seeming immune profiles, with a lower percentage of fresh disease-fighting cells and more worn-out white blood cells.
A strong association between stressful life events and weaker immunity remained even after controlling for factors like education, smoking, drinking, BMI, race, and ethnicity.
However, they found that when controlling for diet and exercise, the connection between accelerated immune aging and stress was not as strong. It may indicate that stress drives people to eat worse and exercise less.
The results also suggest that improving diet and boosting activity levels may help offset stress-related immune aging.
Making an effort to eat less processed food and more fruits, vegetables, and other nutrient-dense foods, as well as including activity into your routine, could help boost immunity in more ways than one.