For many busy people of all ages, stress is often thought of as an inescapable part of life. But in many cases, stress can actually make you physically sick.
Besides affecting emotions and behavior, stress symptoms can cause headaches, muscle tension, and stomach issues.
Now, a new study reveals the science behind how stress can aggravate certain cells and cause allergic reactions or even disease.
The study was conducted Adam Moeser, a researcher from Michigan State University, who specializes in stress-induced diseases.
Moeser’s work illustrates how the stress receptor CRF1 interacts with immune cells called mast cells and can control the cells’ defense response to allergens.
For example, when exposed to a severe allergy or high-level stress, histamine can cause a major allergic reaction. Histamine is a chemical substance in the body that helps get rid of irritants and allergens, and stress can amplify the histamine’s normal response.
“Mast cells become highly activated in response to stressful situations the body may be experiencing,” said Moeser. “When this happens, CRF1 tells these cells to release chemical substances that can lead to inflammatory and allergic diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, life-threatening food allergies and autoimmune disorders such as lupus.”
Moeser conducted several lab experiments with mice, studying how the mice were impacted by either allergic or physiological stress.
One group of mice had normal CRF1 receptors on the mast cells, while a second group had the CRF1 receptors removed from their cells.
The CRF1 deficient mice showed decreased levels of disease regardless of the type of stress they were exposed to. Allergic stress exposures resulted in a 54 percent reduction in disease and the physiological stress correlated with a 63 percent decrease in disease.
“While the ‘normal’ mice exposed to stress exhibited high histamine levels and disease, the mice without CRF1 had low histamine levels, less disease and were protected against both types of stress,” said Moeser. “This tells us that CRF1 is critically involved in some diseases initiated by these stressors.”
The research could help create new treatments for stress-induced diseases like asthma and irritable bowel syndrome, and serves as a reminder to monitor stress levels in the interest of your own health.