Dr. Pamela Frank, licensed naturopathic practitioner in Toronto, indicates she’s seen new diagnoses provoked in patients by stressors including anything from a university dissertation triggering a sudden allergy to a cat a person had for years, to a divorce resulting in a sudden adult diagnosis of asthma. For other people, stressors as simple as winter weather can trigger an asthma attack. Although the situation may vary, the stress has a definite impact.
Current research at Ohio State University on stress and immunity showed participants with higher stress levels having greater or more prolonged allergy responses. A skin prick test showed those with greater anxiety having wheals (skin reactions) twice as big – 75 percent larger – after they were stressed, compared to when they weren’t, in addition to being four times more likely to have a stronger reaction to the test a day later. So, being stressed can cause persistent problems resulting in prolonged symptoms, such as allergies being worse the next day.
Integrative physician Isaac Eliaz, MD, LAc, MS describes the impact of stress on allergies as “triggered by overactive inflammatory-immune responses, and asthma is also related to inflammatory response.” He indicates that the response is aggravated by stress inducing hormones, such as cortisol, adrenalin and glucagons that once released into the bloodstream result in a spike in Insulin and IGF-1, which over time can lead to problems with immune functioning.
“These hormonal cascades contribute to inflammation and over time, high levels of these hormones degrade immune function and can lead to “dysregulation” of immunity,” says Eliaz. He indicates that this dysregulation can lead to “inappropriate” responses in the immune system found in allergies and other autoimmune issues, “where the immune system loses its regulatory mechanisms and begins to attack the body rather than foreign invaders.” And immediate or chronic stress can also cause inflammatory responses that can lead to asthma attacks.
The good news is that stress related allergy and asthma symptoms can be improved. Like a well-oiled machine, a little support can go a long way toward a healthier and calmer system.
Frank suggests that better immune regulation can be achieved through adrenal support. She says, “Adrenals produce corticosteroids that are similar to corticosteroid medications that patients with allergies and asthma often become dependent on.”
Support can include supplements such as B and C (B6 and C are natural anti-histamines), magnesium, zinc and potassium, and adaptogenic (rejuvenating) herbs like licorice, ginseng, rhodiola and ashwaghanda, indicates Frank. She adds, “Anti-inflammatory herbs like turmeric can also help alleviate asthma. Quercetin is a bioflavonoid that helps allergies. Probiotics can be used to moderate the immune system. And vitamin A is important for the health of mucous membranes.” Also, exercise – the great stress buster – burns off the hormones released by stress.
According to Eliaz, relaxation techniques, such as meditation, deep breathing, and yoga or Tai Chi can also help lower stress and the inflammation responses it can trigger. He adds, “Studies have shown these practices to be beneficial in reducing cortisol, increasing oxygenation, strengthening and regulating immunity and improving mental and emotional well being.”
Healthy responses to stress support a strong immune system and adrenal function, with greater regularity and less inflammation and other damaging effects. The stronger the system, the greater the protection you’ll have against unwanted allergy and asthma symptoms.
Cheryl Patterson has a B.A. in Psychology and has researched the area of stress for over ten years. For more on Cheryl visit www.cherylpatterson.ca.