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Stress Develops, Further Imperiling Health

Research Confirms Stress Makes You Sick

National Nine News - Health News
Writer unknown - December 5, 2005

Australian scientists have proved what many people have suspected for years: stress makes you sick.

Researchers at Sydney's Garvan Institute have discovered how a hormone known as neuropeptide Y (NPY), often released during times of stress, can prevent our immune system functioning properly.

The institute's Associate Professors Fabienne Mackay and Herbert Herzog said their findings, published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, prove a link between the brain and the immune system.

The research paves the way for understanding and preventing stress-related colds, flu, depression and even cancer, they said.

"Until now there has mostly been circumstantial evidence of a link between the brain and the immune system, but now we have that connection," Prof Mackay said.

"During periods of stress, nerves release a lot of NPY and it gets into the bloodstream, where it inhibits the cells in the immune system that look out for and destroy pathogens (bacteria and viruses) in the body."

The research also opens the door for new opportunities for therapeutic intervention.

"This discovery will be vital in helping us develop a whole new generation of drugs that can stimulate immune defences in people who have high levels of stress," Prof Mackay said.

Under extreme periods of stress, the NPY hormone can also prevent our good TH1 cells (also known as "helper" cells) from attacking bacteria and viruses, she said.

Prof Mackay said exploiting this TH1 inhibitory mechanism to prevent immune responses getting out of control would be essential in responding to diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, type 1 diabetes and lupus.

She was quick to point out, however, that proper medication could take years to develop and there was a lot more to understand about stress and its effect on the immune system.

"In the meantime, it is important that we understand how bad stress is for all of us," Prof Mackay said.

"The best thing to do is to remove stress from our lives just by reorganising the way we live, changing our lifestyle and using things like yoga and relaxation to the best of our ability.

"That stress makes you sick is no longer a myth, it is a reality and we need to take it seriously."

This page is part of Section Seven:
the Harm section of