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Nutrition, Activity and Wellness: Stress Weakens the Immune System

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During the flu season or times of illness, people often seek special foods or vitamin supplements that are believed to boost immunity. Vitamin C and foods like citrus fruits, chicken soup, and tea with honey are popular examples. Yet the design of our immune system is complex and influenced by an ideal balance of many factors, not just diet, and especially not by any one specific food or nutrient

However, a balanced diet consisting of a range of vitamins and minerals, combined with healthy lifestyle factors like adequate sleep and exercise and low stress, most effectively primes the body to fight infection and disease.

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There are many factors that affect immune system functions, one of those is nutrition

There is a significant correlation between immune system and nutrition, furthermore malnutrition shouldn’t be considered as energy and a protein deficiency alone. Due to these reasons, the main aim of nourishment is not merely to gain energy and protein, but to enhance resistance against ailments with some specific nutriment and to turn the inflammatory response in someone’s best interests. The nutriments which show beneficial effects on immune system are called. Immune nutriments and nourishment on these nutriments is called immune diet. The dietary factors that cause harm to immunity functions are either deficient intake of macro-nutrient elements (fat, carbohydrate, protein) or deficiency in some specific micronutrient elements (vitamin, mineral, water). Balanced nutrition, especially in terms of adequate vitamin, mineral and protein intake, enhances the resistance against infections. Research’s show that balanced nutrition subsidizes the immune system and Cary out vital importance on the system. It is known that each year in the world 6 million children die because of infections caused by malnutrition due to breakdown in immune system. Therefore we must make sure we consume adequate protein, especially milk dairy products, eggs which are biologically valuable proteins in order to keep our immune system strong. In addition; we must also regularly consume foods which are thought to be our first defence line against free radicals such as Vitamin C, E and foods consisting of beta-carotene. Despite the fact that infamous reputation of free radicals, they are highly needed in our lives and they only become dangerous when they are excessive. Micronutrients called antioxidants can provide protection against free radicals. Antioxidant is a substance that prevents foods especially fats from oxidation and spoilage. As the name suggests, it prevent chain reactions by counteracting combination of oxygen with other substances, so those substances want be oxidized. Malnutrition breaks down the immunity functions by repressing immune system. Repressive immune systems cases have been increasing recently. The dietary factors that cause malfunction in immune system could be insufficient intake of energy and macronutrients (CHO, protein, fats) or deficiency of specific micronutrients.Proteins are nutriments that contain nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen in their chemical structures. Many immune mechanisms rely on production of active protein compounds or cell replication. In protein deficiency, functions of immune system decrease. It is thought that the negative effect of protein deficiency on immunity is connected with the effect of immune system regulator for some amino acids. Deficiency in essential amino acid can also cause repression on immune system. Too much consumption of some amino acids can cause diverse effect on immune system functions. The latest studies show that protein metabolism play an important role in formation of natural and acquired immunity against infections. Provision of these nutritional elements through natural foods will prevent person from the side effects of overuse. Weight-loss programs, in which less than 1200 kilocalorie foods is consumed effect the immunity functions, for this reason, these extremely unhealthy so-called fast weight-loss diets should be avoided. A healthy immune system lets us fell well look well and lets us use our energy more effectively. Remaining away from the stressful factors, approaching life and events positively, keeping away from smoking and alcohol, adequate and balanced nourishment and regular exercising are among the supports we can give to our immune system. However, sometimes, these supports become insufficient and we may need some strengthening out sourcing for our immune system. This supports should be preferred through natural nutrients rather than medications.

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Those findings opened the floodgates of research. By 2004, Suzanne Segerstrom, PhD, of the University of Kentucky, and Gregory Miller, PhD, of the University of British Columbia, had nearly 300 studies on stress and health to review. Their meta-analysis discerned intriguing patterns. Lab studies that stressed people for a few minutes found a burst of one type of "first responder" activity mixed with other signs of weakening (Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., & Glaser, R., 2002). For stress of any significant duration - from a few days to a few months or years, as happens in real life - all aspects of immunity went downhill. Thus long-term or chronic stress, through too much wear and tear, can ravage the immune system. The meta-analysis also revealed that people who are older or already sick are more prone to stress-related immune changes. For example, a 2002 study by Lyanne McGuire, PhD, of John Hopkins School of Medicine with Kiecolt-Glaser and Glaser reported that even chronic, sub-clinical mild depression may suppress an older person's immune system. Participants in the study were in their early 70s and caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease. Those with chronic mild depression had weaker lymphocyte-T cell responses to two mitogens, which model how the body responds to viruses and bacteria. The immune response was down even 18 months later, and immunity declined with age. In line with the 2004 meta-analysis, it appeared that the key immune factor was duration, not severity, of depression. And in the case of the older caregivers, their depression and age meant a double-whammy for immunity

The researchers noted that lack of social support has been reported in the research as a risk factor for depression, an insight amplified in a 2005 study of college students (Glaser, R., Robles, 2003). Health psychologists Sarah Pressman, PhD, Sheldon Cohen, PhD, and fellow researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's Laboratory for the Study of Stress, Immunity and Disease, found that social isolation and feelings of loneliness each independently weakened first-year students' immunity. In the study, students got flu shots at the university health center, described their social networks, and kept track of their day-to-day feelings using a handheld computer (a new technique called "momentary ecological awareness"). They also provided saliva samples for measuring levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Small networks and loneliness each independently weakened immunity to a core vaccine component. Immune response was most weakened by the combination of loneliness and small social networks, an obvious health stress facing shy new students who have yet to build their friendship circles.

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In short, links between stress, coping style, perceptions of energy and fatigue, energy expenditure (including spontaneous PA and non-exercise activity thermogenesis [NEAT]) and metabolism, amongst other factors (e.g., conscientiousness) should be integrated into conceptual models explaining obesity and physical health. Models specifically examining recovery from stressors and sedentary behavior would be useful, as stress is linked to these outcomes

Finally, it should be noted that psychosocial stress and exercise interact during PA itself, a third area of inquiry that will likely inform the complex confounding of these two factors.

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Edwards, K.M., Burns V.E., Reynolds, T., Carroll, D., Drayson, M., & Ring, C. (2006). Acute stress exposure prior to influenza vaccination enhances antibody response in women. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 20:159-68.

Glaser, R., Sheridan, J. F., Malarkey, W. B., MacCallum, R. C., & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (2000). Chronic stress modulates the immune response to a pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine. Psychosomatic Medicine, 62, 804-807.

Glaser, R., Robles, T. F., Malarkey, W. B., Sheridan, J. F., & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (2003). Mild depressive symptoms are associated with amplified and prolonged inflammatory responses following influenza vaccination in older adults. Archives of General Psychiatry, 60, 1009-1014.

Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., Glaser, R. (1993). Mind and immunity. In: D. Goleman & J. Gurin, (Eds.) Mind/Body Medicine (pp. 39-59). New York: Consumer Reports.

Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., & Glaser, R. (2002). Depression and immune function: Central pathways to morbidity and mortality. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 53, 873-876.

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