The immune system is a complex system that aids in fighting off infections and diseases. Ultimately, this system keeps us healthy and from getting sick. And while eating your daily servings of fruits and vegetables can help to strengthen this system, along with many other healthy habits. It is important not to overlook the connection it has to hormonal health.
Now, considering the fact that our hormones play an integral part in keeping the immune system in order, let's talk about one of the main hormones at play here, cortisol.
Cortisol is known as the stress hormone and it can be a detriment to the immune system if not addressed and managed properly. Research has shown that stress can actually increase your risk of developing infectious diseases. So what exactly happens to your immune system when you are too stressed out?
Cortisol has anti-inflammatory effects and activates the body's fight or flight system, or the sympathetic nervous system. This response was foundational to our hunter-gather ancestor's survival. The burst of cortisol helped their bodies focus all their energy on fleeing from predators and essentially pausing other bodily functions like immune defense, inflammation, or digestion until the threat has passed.
However, nowadays we are not faced with threats such as these, but the bodily effects are still the same. Especially when the short bursts of cortisol turn into long-term chronic stress. This is when elevated cortisol levels can do more harm than good. The high levels of stress over time can lead to your immune cells ignoring the cortisol signaling. As result, this causes your immune system to become resistant to cortisol's anti-inflammatory signals. In other words, high stress equals high inflammation, which is an open invitation for autoimmune conditions and dysfunctions to develop.
In addition, chronic stress diminishes serotonin levels, which prompts your body to produce cortisol instead of progesterone. And without the production of progesterone, it can place your body into a state of estrogen dominance, which can result in even more inflammation.
Now, stressful situations are inevitable in life, but it can be possible to reduce and manage them in a healthy way that protects your body from the harmful effects of high cortisol. Adopting habits like meditation, prayer, journaling, and yoga is highly recommended to address concerns such as high stress. In addition, investing in natural supplements like Stress-Less are good places to start.