The adverse effects of stress on the body has just gotten more scientific proof, if any was needed. Ben-Gurion University researchers have shown that chronic stress increases the susceptibility to an autoimmune disease similar to multiple sclerosis, which is characterized by damage to the nervous system in the brain.
When examining mice, researchers saw that elevated stress damages the immune system’s mechanism that battles inflammation. When the mice were placed under chronic stress, there was damage caused to the release of adequate levels of glucocorticoids (a steroid hormone).
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As a result, glucocorticoids cannot effectively fulfill their usual function, which is to inhibit the cells that encourage inflammation. This increased the number of cells that encouraged pathogenic inflammation compared to those that inhibit it.
It is important to note, that the mechanisms appeared more significantly in females than in males and may explain, in part, the higher rates of autoimmune disease in women than in men.
The Short-term solution is harmful long-term
Altogether, the results of the current study suggest that while a high level of glucocorticoids generally protect against the worsening of autoimmune diseases, for those under chronic stress, such treatment could lead to a worsening of their symptoms. Therefore, even though steroids is one of the treatments for chronic inflammation, use of such a treatment, particularly in patients suffering from chronic stress, should be carefully weighed and considered.
The researchers are also investigating the effects of glucocorticoids in aging and age-related neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, and report that there is a likely connection between the effects of glucocorticoids on the immune system and aging.
The study, Recently published in the European Journal of Immunology, was conducted by Doctor Idan Harpaz and Professor Alon Monsonego, in conjunction with Professor Hagit Cohen. Monsonego and Harpaz are from the Shraga Segal Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the Faculty of Health Sciences. Monsonego is also a member of the National Institute for Biotechnology in the Desert. Cohen is the head of the Anxiety and Stress Research Unit, Division of Psychiatry at the Faculty of Health Sciences.
Photo by ian boyd