Why does the immune response shut down in response to stress and stressors?
The immune system plays an important role in fighting off the negative things that may affect our body. It is basically a complex set up of tissues and cells that act as soldiers to foreign organisms such as viruses and bacteria. The most famous mechanism used by the immune system is called antibodies. Antibodies are molecules that kill foreign organisms. And like any other cases, a special antibody is produced to fight each foreign organism.
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Like any other system, the immune system has its own waterloo. It cannot take care of the body all the time and at instances, it shuts down. Such is the case when it reacts to stress and stressors. So why does this happen? The brain is mainly to be blamed—or maybe both of them.
It has been mentioned that the immune system produces antibodies that kills the bacteria or virus present. To be able to do this, immune molecules have to send signals to the brain. However, these immune signals change the way the brain functions. This results in different behaviors that a person may experience. This is called sickness behavior—which is basically losing appetite for almost everything. It turns out that the signaling molecules from the immune system activate the hypothalamus which controls the stress response. Through a surge of hormones from the pituitary and adrenal glands and with the help of the hypothalamus, the hormone cortisol rises. The cortisol is the major steroid hormone that helps us get through stressful situations. It was discovered just recently that the brain uses cortisol to hold back the immune system from doing its job. Thus it resulted to the shutting down of the immune system and toning down of inflammation within the body (Adams, 2004, p. 23). Scientists say that there two kinds of stresses; good stress and bad stress. It is important to keep our body in good balance to help them do their supposed functions properly. Aside from that, dealing with stress takes a lot of control. So if something is bothering you that much, breathe and think twice for you might be risking your life for crying too much over spilled milk.
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Zimmer, W. (2005). Immune System Functions. New York: Misit Press.