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Ask Dr. Nandi: This is how stress makes us sick

Posted at 4:52 PM, Jan 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-12 16:52:47-05

Who among us doesn’t feel stressed out sometimes? I know I do. A little bit of stress is a normal part of everyday life, but when it becomes chronic it can wreak havoc on the mind AND body. The relationship between stress and our health has become common knowledge — around a third of adults in the U.S. report that their stress levels have a strong influence on the way they feel overall. But it helps to know why stress has this effect, and a new study sheds light on that. 

The answer may lie in a special cell that’s involved in the body’s immune response. It’s called a “mast cell”. We know mast cells are involved in warding off physical allergens from the body. They also play a key role in diseases like asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, and lupus. But we’re learning that psychological strain is also linked to increased activity in mast cells. Researchers have learned that these cells create a peptide — called CRF1 — that's critically involved in causing both physical and psychological disease. So scientists hope that by targeting mast cells, they may soon be able to find new ways of treating stress-related ailments.  

Keeping cortisol under wraps is one of the most important things you can do for your overall health, and there are some simple ways to do this. Here are my prescriptions. 

Partha’s Rx

-Set aside time in your day to consciously unwind. We live in a stressful world, and it’s important to step back and take a deep breath sometimes.

-Practice mindfulness in everyday situations. Stress often comes from thinking too much about the future. Defuse it by staying in the moment. 

-Consider taking up a yoga or meditation practice. Both are excellent ways to train your brain to stay more present. 

-If stress is making you physically ill, go see your doctor. Medication can sometimes be helpful in the short term. 

Lots of common physical ailments can be stress-related. Fatigue, muscle soreness, headaches, and insomnia are just a few. But even subtler symptoms can be brought about by stress like depression, anxiety and lack of motivation. That’s why staying mindful and finding ways to keep stress at bay are so important.