Chronic Stress Literally Destroys Immunity

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 08/30/2023

As if you weren’t already stressed enough, along comes one of those life events designed to max out your fight or flight responses: a pandemic of a highly contagious and sometimes deadly new viral disease, COVID 19, with its attendant quarantines, shelter-in-place orders, and other sweeping changes to your daily life.
a photo of a stressed out woman pulling at her hair

Your levels of stress climb into the stratosphere, even though you would have sworn they couldn’t go any higher after months of long term stress responses including your heart rate galloping like a runaway horse, your hormone levels out of whack, and even some frightening instances of short term memory loss.

But did you know that chronic stress can destroy your immune system and leave you even more vulnerable to COVID 19? I want you to be aware of this possibility, because when you inform yourself, you can make better choices about your health.

In this article, I’ll explain:

Keeping your immune system robust and healthy is always important; never more so than during this global COVID 19 pandemic.


How Stress Destroys Your Immune System

Stress can literally destroy your immune system over time.

For an example of what happens when you have too much cortisol, one of the stress hormones, over a long period of time, I found this quote from the Ciba Collection of Medical Illustrations, Volume 4, Endocrine System. The author is Frank H. Netter. Here’s what it says on page 84 under the section on cortisol:

“Diverts amino acids from lymphoid tissue leading to a marked reduction in size, and to actual lysis of the nodes.”

I know what you’re thinking: this sounds serious, but you’re not a medical professional. You want to understand what this means.

Let’s break it down.

an illustration of the stress response system

Lymphoid Tissue

Lymphoid tissues refer to the tissues that comprise your lymphatic system. This includes your lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are small structures that work as filters for harmful substances such as viruses and bacteria. Lymph nodes contain immune cells that can help fight infection by attacking and destroying germs that are brought in through the lymph fluid.

You can think of your lymphatic system as an extension of your circulatory system. Your heart pumps blood, part of which gets absorbed into your tissues and gets converted to lymph, a colorless fluid which contains white blood cells. Lymph subsequently gets sent to your lymphatic system.

While your heart is the pump for your circulatory system, your lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump. It’s more akin to a drainage system. The lymph circulates through your body before being sent back to your vascular system.

Without the proper drainage that a healthy lymphatic system provides, you can end up with significant edema, or swelling, in your tissues. The lymphatic system is also where there tends to be a primary immune response to keep pathogens away from your significant organs. This is why your lymph glands swell - it’s an indication of an immune response.

a photo of a woman medical professional checking a man’s lymph nodes

As well, in this medical context, the term “marked” means noticeable or prominent. Thus, the lymphoid tissue is noticeably reduced in size. When lymphoid tissue is reduced, your body has lowered ability to fight pathogens.

Your Lymph Nodes Break Down

To add insult to injury, the term “lysis” means breakdown. So, your lymph nodes break down under a chronic burden of high cortisol.

In other words, your immune system degrades when high cortisol diverts amino acids from your lymphatic system.

Let’s see what else this book says about the impact of chronic stress on your immunity.

You Can’t Produce As Many Antibodies

Here’s what happens as an outcome of a degraded lymphatic

“This is a marked decrease in overall antibody production, which, together with the breakdown of inter- and intracellular barriers...raises susceptibility to viral and bacterial infection.”

In this context, “marked” means distinctive and emphasized.

Antibodies are produced by your immune system, and they help give you immunity to diseases. Antibodies don’t necessarily kill pathogens like viruses, Rather, they put a marker on the virus so that if you get infected again, your other immune cells can quickly recognize the pathogen and kill it. If you have a sufficient amount of antibodies in your system, you’re protected from the disease for which you have the antibodies.

Inter- and intracellular barriers refers to barriers between cells (inter) and within cells (intra). These barriers form part of your immune defense. But high cortisol breaks down these defenses, which is part of what makes you more likely to get a viral or bacterial infection.

I know this is a little science-y, but bear with me. This is crucial for your health, particularly with COVID 19 raging through the population.

And this isn’t meant to scare you. I want you to be informed, and to also understand the steps you can take to build a robust immune system.


How To Keep Your Immune System Strong

Keeping your immune system strong means reducing your stress load, combined with eating nutritious food such as you would on a Healthy KetoTM diet. When you follow this way of eating, you consume whole foods such as vegetables, meat, fish, and poultry, and nuts and seeds.

You’ll cut out snacks, processed foods, and most carbohydrates, to ensure you get the nutrients you need not only for your immune system, but to lose weight and lower your Fat Storing Hormone and blood sugar levels too.

But of course, it’s not only good nutrition that will strengthen your immune system.

You also need to lower your stress levels.

Most of us are aware of stress reduction techniques like meditation, deep breathing, and yoga. These are all good, and I encourage you to try them.

As well, I’ve put together a video for you with additional simple techniques to minimize your stress, including a mineral bath, acupressure, and long walks. Be sure to watch it, so you learn more effective ways to lower your stress and reduce the damage from chronic cortisol.

a photo of a calm woman

Oh, and another tip: avoid the news. It’s designed to stress you out. You’ll feel much better even if this is the only step you take.

Time to focus on your relaxation!

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Disclaimer: Our educational content is not meant or intended for medical advice or treatment.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for quality and relevancy.

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