One could say, that of the main causes of death today is stress. People think it is cancer, or heart disease. But how do you think it gets started? Stress is present in all areas of our lives, and we have become so used to it that we are even unaware of its constant presence in our lives. Yet, stress invades our space when we are stuck in a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam and the cars are not moving. We feel stress when we rush to catch the morning train because we left a little bit later than usual.
Stress attacks us with billboards advertising everywhere your eye turns, with blaring music and engine noises. We are invaded with pollution, we go to shops and our senses are blasted with stimulus to get us to spend our money, music, announcements, colours, and signs to read. Have you ever been on a holiday to a really quiet place? If you've been to a quiet place, it might have been at the beach or the mountain, or in the country, but it would have been a place where there is no television, no radio, no music of any sort, and the external stimulation was provided by natural sounds. This is getting increasingly more difficult to find, even your local café or restaurant is saturated with music, loud cappuccino machines and many TV sets.
The fact that conditions such as stress have a serious impact on immunity is no longer in question. Temporary stress, like studying for an exam, can completely wipe out the body's interferon levels, literally reducing them to 0. Interferon is necessary for certain cells of the immune system to do their jobs. For example, one kind of immune cells is a lymphocyte known as the natural killer cell. Natural killer cells have 2 functions. First, they patrol the body and seek out virus-infected cells for elimination. Second, they seek out and destroy cancer cells. In students, the stress of exam week often results in colds, cold sores or other minor illnesses, perhaps as a result of the poor natural killer cell activity brought about by low interferon levels.
In terms of long-term health, chronic stress is much more important than short-term stress. Walter Cannon first described the body's response to acute stress which he called the fight or flight response, in 1929. When we are faced with an emergency, there is a miraculous symphony that plays itself out flawlessly in the body. Adrenaline pours out of the adrenal glands, causing blood pressure to rise and the heart to beat more forcefully. At the same time, sugar is liberated from storage in the liver and pours into the bloodstream. This rapidly burning fuel is quickly delivered to our muscles, giving us uncommon strength. Adrenaline simultaneously improves visual acuity, short-term memory, and mental sharpness. We can make decisions fast and then act on them, we can survive. To learn more about how stress causes disease, read Cancer Free For Life.
If you have a scare in traffic, your body responds instantly. A minute later, calm prevails unless you decide to wallow in anger or frustration. Then stress can become chronic when we hang on to ancient anger for years. Research showed that chronic stress leads to enlarged adrenal glands and the thymus gland, the producer of T-lymphocytes used to fight cancer, is very small. Chronic stress leads to illness. When we are stressed the hypothalamus secretes a hormone which causes the adrenal glands to manufacture cortisol. In the long run, it is a suppressor of the immune system. It prevents the formation of new immune cells, and inhibits the activity of the ones already in the system.