Stress causes real illness
Doctors who still doubt whether Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)
is "real" cite the wide diversity of physical and mental
symptoms it presents, and the lack of a proven single causative
agent or virus. But research on how stress effects the immune
system, in particular Natural Killer (NK) cell function, is providing
a new and more comprehensive model to explain the onset and progression
of CFS and its variety of physicals, cognitive and emotional symptoms.
Natural Killer (NK) cells are a type of white blood cell referred
to as the "sentinel" cells of the immune system. Like
the sentinels of a fort, they are the first to encounter invading
viruses, bacteria, and emerging malignancies. They have an innate
or "natural" ability to distinguish between the good
guys and the bad guys, and can kill multiple target cells simultaneously
or in quick succession. When NK cell function is high, pathogens
are nipped in the bud, before they can take root, and the rest
of the immune system tends to be down-regulated, rested and better
prepared to respond if called upon.
The mind-body connection
The connection between stress and chronic fatigue comes as a
result of the interactions of the immune system with the nervous
and endocrine systems studied in the emerging field of psycho-neuro-endocrine-immunology.
When confronted by emotional or physical stress, the brain produces
a neurotransmitter called Substance Y that helps initiate the
"fight or flight" response. It directly suppresses
NK cell function and other aspects of cellular immunity that relate
to innate immunity.
The body compensates by up-regulating humoral immunity, specifically
increasing inflammatory cytokines that enhance aspects of acquired
immunity that increase antibody production, and hormones that
cause fluctuations in body temperature, and generally make the
body a hostile environment.
Up-regulation of humoral immunity and the inflammatory response
for short periods of time can speed recovery and is good for health.
But when emotional and physiological stress is extremely severe
or of long duration, inflammatory cytokines themselves suppress
NK cell function and the condition becomes self-perpetuating. This can also happen when several stresses occur simultaneously
or coincide with NK cell suppression that naturally occurs at
the time of ovulation in women.
Different types of stress - similar effects
The concepts of psychoneuroimmunology provide a unified theory
that encompasses the many mental and physical stresses that may
lead to CFS with its many medical and psychological symptoms.
Emotional stresses such as grief and fear are shown to suppress
cellular immunity and favor inflammatory immune responses, as
are physical stresses such as heavy metal poisoning, chemical
exposure, nutritional deficiencies, hormone imbalances, accidental
injury and medical procedures.
The psychological symptoms that correspond with low NK cell function
include fatigue, exaggerated pain responses, altered sleep patterns,
decreased libido, anxiety, depression, cognitive and memory problems.
The physical symptoms include chemical and allergic sensitivity,
recurrent flu-like symptoms, and muscle and joint stiffness.
There are many aspects of altered immune response, but in studies
of post-traumatic stress disorders, only suppressed NK cell function
consistently predicted the future onset of chronic illness. In
the case of CFS, the severity of many mental and physical symptoms
correspond with the degree of NK cell impairment.
Reducing stress effects with AHCC
Many common stress reducing methods such as regular exercise,
music, massage, and just smiling itself can increase NK cell activity.
And many NK cell-enhancing strategies can reduce the effects of
stress as studies of the immune enhancing supplement AHCC have
AHCC (Active Hexose Correlated Compound) is made from a fermented
extract of a hybrid of mushrooms used in traditional Japanese
medicine. It is distinguished from other mushroom supplements
by its low molecular weight, 5,000 daltons, and alpha-glucan structure.
Published studies by several groups of researchers in the U.S. and Japan have shown that taken orally AHCC can up-regulate NK
cell function by several hundred percent, with associated increases
in the cytokines IL-2 and IL-12 that are generally associated
with the down-regulation of inflammatory cytokines.
AHCC is widely used in Japan, in over 600 hospitals, for the
treatment of cancer, hepatitis and other chronic diseases because
of the supporting research specific to these conditions.
Research in models of physical and chemically-induced stress
showed that AHCC reduced glucocorticoid production normally up-regulated
by stress, and reduced increases in blood sugar level caused by
stress-induced secretion of epinephrine. Physicians and psychologists
who treat CFS and their patients have reported improvements in
mood, energy and pain with the use of AHCC, consistent with the
model that up-regulating NK cell function helps to reduce the
adverse effects that stress has on the response of the nervous,
endocrine and immune systems to stress.
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