A recent study by the University of Southern California has found that chronic stress can accelerate the aging of the immune system.
All adults face some stress in their lives, and that stress is manageable for most people. But this new study suggests that chronic stress can speed up the immune system’s aging, raising the risk for health problems down the road such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and illness from infections such as COVID-19.
Researchers believe this new information could help explain the increase in age-related health problems and identify possible points for intervention.
As people age, the immune system naturally begins to downgrade, a condition called immunosenescence. Immune aging is associated with several conditions, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, increased risk of pneumonia, reduced efficacy of vaccines, and organ system aging.
This decline in the immune system occurs due to a reduction in the number and function of immune cells. There are several theories as to why this occurs, including poor diet, diminished thymus function, changes in bone marrow production and hormone levels, and stress, according to this study. Regardless of the cause, immune aging can seriously affect the elderly.
For the study, researchers calculated exposure to various forms of social stress from a national sample of 5,744 adults over the age of 50. Each participant answered a questionnaire to assess their exposure to social stress, stressful life events, and chronic stress. Blood samples were also analyzed.
Researchers found that participants with higher stress scores had older-seeming immune profiles, lower percentages of fresh disease-fighters, and higher percentages of worn-out white blood cells.
“In this study, after statistically controlling for poor diet and low exercise, the connection between stress and accelerated immune aging wasn’t as strong,” said lead study author Eric Klopack. “What this means is people who experience more stress tend to have poorer diet and exercise habits, partly explaining why they have more accelerated immune aging.”
Luckily, there are several ways to help combat immune aging caused by stress. These include maintaining a healthy lifestyle, getting regular exercise, and getting enough sleep. Additionally, eating a well-balanced diet and taking supplements can also help to improve immune function. By taking these steps, adults can help reduce the effects of immune aging and enjoy a healthier life.
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