The Role of Stress in Disease

Junior (College 3rd year) ・Healthcare&Medicine ・APA ・3 Sources

High levels of stress affect the body immune system in many ways. The high levels of stress may affect the body’s response to infection (New York Times, 2017). Research has justified that people who are under a lot of stress have reduced counts of white blood cells and are more susceptible to catch diseases such as colds. The symptoms of cold can be made worse if the person that has it has a lot of stress. Also, research has discovered that individuals who carry herpes virus are vulnerable to its activation if they harbor stress. The New York Times also recorded that extreme stressful conditions caused an overproduction of cytokines.

The evidence of these studies has now link stress to diseases such as asthma and heart diseases. In the article, The Mind - Body Interaction in Disease, research has discovered that there exists a complex relationship between the immune system and the brain. This is composed of a network that sends signals to each other continuously and rapidly.  During a period when one has stress, the chemical produced by the immune cells signal in the brain and the brain sends chemical cells to restrain the immune system.            

Inflammation of the body could possibly result in inflammation of the brain (Maier & Watkins, 2012). Inflammation, therefore, is when the immune system responds to protect the body from infections. The defense response does not end on the site where the infection took place.  Soon after an infection, the body develops a pattern that is referred to as an acute phase response. The response constitutes a rise in body temperature which is characteristic of fever.

This sickness behavior is usually evident in a person that has the flu. They comprise of inactivity, loss of appetite and mood sags. All these changes in the body behavior are accomplished through the central nervous system. For instance, when the number of temperature sensitive cells in the hypothalamus increases one develops a fever.            

Stress is also a major factor that triggers emotional behaviors in the brains of a human being.  The cytokines which contribute in producing an inflammatory response are the ones that start communication to the central nervous system (Maier & Watkins, 2012).

They travel to the brain through the blood. When they reach the brain, there is cytokine receptor these nerves communicate to the brain and are activated in an infection. At this time the immune cells in the brain are activated and produce cytokines which cause a neuroinflammatory response in the brain.  In a typical infection, the neuroinflammation which often results in behavior changes only lasts for a few days (Maier & Watkins, 2012).  On the other hand, if these responses continue for extended periods of time, the outcomes may result in a cognitive impairment which could lead to extreme cases such as depression instead of reduced mood. The resident cells can also become sensitized when the inflammation does not prolong. Neuroinflammation caused by surgery, and other infections is greatly exaggerated among the older people, For example, old people have sensitized resident brain cells, microglia, which respond in exaggeration to input. Consequently, older people have higher chances of sinking into depressive behaviors (Maier & Watkins, 2012). However some encouraging research has found out that the microglia and cytokines could be inhibited in the brain, this could reduce such pathological impacts.


Janeway, C., & Medzhitov, R. (n.d.). Innate Immune Recognition. Retrieved September 12, 2017, from

Maier, S. F., & Watkins, L. R. (2012, August 17). Consequences of the Inflamed Brain. Retrieved from New York Times. (2017, September 12). Stress and Anxiety. Retrieved from

Sternberg, E., & Gould, P. (n.d.). The Mind-Body Interaction in DisEASE. Retrieved September 12, 2017, from The University of Arizona. (2000, May 24). Introduction to Immunology Tutorial. Retrieved from

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