Stress and the Immune System
Always on the run from appointments to work to kids’ activities, even the most health conscious can fall into an endless cycle of colds, infections, and chronic allergy issues. Sometimes even more serious health concerns like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, or gastrointestinal disorders may occur. Stress plays a major role in how we feel.
In a 2012 study by the American Psychological Association, 88 percent of women and 78 percent of men surveyed said stress levels had a strong impact on their physical health. Further research shows stress and immune system function are connected.
A 2004 review of nearly 300 studies on stress and health found1 “for stress of any significant duration…all aspects of immunity went downhill.” Ultimately, researchers found, “chronic stress can ravage the immune system.” The immune system is the body’s defense against infections, diseases, and viruses. Immunity can be affected by diet, mental health, environment, and metabolism.
Lowered immune function leads to increased susceptibility to disease and slows healing time. Chronic stress can also lead to increased inflammation in the body. “Stress and inflammation are the primary building blocks of cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease.” When under threat or stressed, the body produces hormones that activate fight or flight response, including cortisol. When stressors are gone, cortisol levels should return to normal. However, if an individual is chronically stressed, cortisol levels remain high, resulting in lower overall immune function.
Numerous studies on Swedish massage over the last 30 years have shown it has a host of benefits for the body. Most people think of Swedish massage, characterized by long, flowing strokes, as a great stress-reliever, but it may also assist immune function.
4 Benefits of Swedish Massage:
1. Increases white blood cells: Your body’s disease and infection fighters.
2. Decreases AVP: A hormone believed to cause aggressive behavior and increased cortisol.
3. Decreases cortisol levels: The “stress hormone” that destroys natural killer cells, which fight tumors and viral infections.
4. Causes a sharp drop in cytokines: Pro-inflammatory proteins in the blood.
Participants who received just one 60-minute massage experienced a boost in immune function. For those with chronic stress and more serious health concerns, regular weekly or bi-weekly sessions may offer the most benefit. As healthcare becomes more expensive, regular Swedish massage can be a good investment. Consider scheduling a series of massages and step off the merry-go-round of stress and illness.
Research database on massage therapy
Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami
1 Segerstrom, Suzanne C.; Miller, Gregory E. (2006). Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: A Meta-Analytic Study of 30 Years of Inquiry. Psychological Bulletin, Vol 130(4), Jul 2004, 601-630. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.130.4.601
Lorrie Garcia is a licensed massage therapist and owner of Evergreen Advanced Bodywork. She has practiced massage therapy for 10 years and is a former faculty member of the Massage Institute of Memphis. For appointments call (901) 496-2881 or visit evergreenadvancedbodywork.com