Just as most of us aren’t all that keen to watch wrinkles forming prematurely on our faces or having our hair turn silver, most of us certainly don’t want to experience immune system aging any sooner than necessary. Unfortunately, just as stress is known to take its toll on our appearance, it can also wreak havoc on our bodies’ defenses.
Social Stress Causes Immune System Aging
More specifically, social stress can place massive pressure on your physical and mental health and can cause premature immune system aging. This includes everything from family problems to money struggles, relationship issues to discrimination.
Since immune system aging already takes place naturally over time with each passing year of a person’s life, when this process is accelerated due to social stress, it can be particularly harmful to an individual’s health.
This doesn’t just mean that you’ll be more likely to catch a cold or have a tougher case of it if you do – though that is certainly one of the down sides. When you experience premature immune system aging, it also raises your risk of heart disease, cancer, and conditions typically associated with aging. Moreover, it can reduce the risk of vaccines and make it tougher for you to recover from infections and illnesses you might have found to be nothing more than a nuisance earlier in life.
Research Shows Social Stresses Are Hard on Your Health
A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal involved an analysis of blood biomarkers of 5,744 adults over the age of 50 years old. Their data was collected as a component of the long-term national Health and Retirement Study, which examined the impact of health, economic, marital and family stresses in Americans aged 50 years and up.
As a result, the researchers in the new study had access to data including both the blood markers – such as T-cell levels – as well as the related responses regarding social stress levels, which included “stressful life events, chronic stress, everyday discrimination and lifetime discrimination.”
What they discovered was a strong association between social stresses and premature immune system aging. The impact was powerful even when controlled for other impactful factors such as drinking, smoking, education, weight, and race or ethnicity.
That said, when poor diet and lacking exercise were factored in, some of the links between social stresses and immune system aging were eliminated. The researchers determined that this pointed to a change in the way we behave when we’re stressed and that by improving what we eat and by becoming more physically active, we can eliminate the harmful impact of social stresses on our T-cell counts.