Most of us know that stress is not healthy. What you might not know is that stress accounts for 60 – 90 % of all illnesses and physician visits.1 Chronic stress can cause things like anxiety, high blood pressure, poor sleep, and headaches. Surprisingly, stress also reduces our health at a deeper level by weakening our immune system. This can make us more likely to get sick with colds and flu. It also makes us more likely to develop auto-immune conditions such as IBS, arthritis, and Bells’ Palsy. Chronic stress has even been shown to cause changes in our DNA.2
Why can everyday stress cause so many health problems? Here is how Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital explains how stress affects our health. “That’s because we react to stress as if we are in actual physical danger. In the classic fight or flight response, our bodies prepare us to either confront or run away from an aggressor by increasing heart rate, elevating blood pressure and secreting hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. In the case of real danger, these changes help us respond more quickly. Once the threat is eliminated, the body is supposed to return to normal.”
But when ongoing work or personal issues are the source of stress, our bodies remain in an agitated state for extended periods of time, causing harm. It is this chronic stress that most people experience in their daily lives that leads to physiological changes that can exacerbate or cause so many health problems and conditions.
Stress weakens the immune system because of increased cortisol. Most people know cortisol as the stress hormone that makes belly fat. However, few understand that cortisol also weakens our immune system. It is where the term cortico-steroid comes from. Cortisol is an immunosuppressant, it reduces the number of white blood cells in our body. White bloods cells are the foundation of our immune system. They are responsible for producing antibodies and destroying viruses, bacteria and tumor cells.
Now the good news:
According to a study from Georgetown University when subjects are pre-treated with acupuncture there was no spike in stress-associated hormones when they were exposed to chronic stress. In the stressed subjects that received acupuncture, stress hormone levels were similar to those in the control subjects that were not under chronic stress. This shows that acupuncture actually eliminates the unhealthy effects of stress on the body. These benefits can be found both in measured changes in blood levels of stress hormones, and in changes in multiple sites in the brain. 3,4
We may not always be able to eliminate the stressors in our lives but we can change how our body reacts to them. Acupuncture is a tool that helps our bodies reverse and cope with the negative effects of stress. It naturally regulates our nervous system which leads to a better functioning immune system. By creating a sense of profound relaxation, acupuncture also can improve our overall state of mind, and promote a sense of well-being or health.
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Friedman MM, et al. Family nursing: Research, theory, and practice (5th ed.). 2003. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Chicago Tribune, 9/19/2017, http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/health/sc-fam-how-to-meditate-1017-story.html