A new study conducted at Stanford University School of Medicine has concluded that short term stress can actually improve and stimulate the immune system. Not to be confused with chronic stress, this has been found to significantly damage the immune system, short term, mild stress has been found to stimulate the immune system ready to heal and protect itself.
Laboratory rats were confined in transparent Plexiglas enclosures to cause them to become ‘mildly stressed’. Over the course of two hours, the stress response was monitored, blood samples were periodically taken testing the levels of stress hormones and immune cells which was indicative of an immune response.
In rats there are three main stress hormones that the researchers were examining that are released by the adrenal glands as part of the fight or flight response. Levels of stress hormones, norepinephrine, epinephrine and corticosterone which is the equivalent of cortisol in humans were all monitored.
It was recorded that as the levels of the stress hormones increased in the blood, there was a massive surge in immune cells into major organs and skin cells of the body. Immune cells such as monocytes, neutrophils and lymphocytes were released into the blood stream before being circulated.
It was reported that the activation of immune cells was a direct result of the increase in stress hormone levels. This means that the rats bodies were preparing to heal any wound and also fight or prevent infections.
If the study was to attain similar results if examined in humans it could have significant medical uses. It could be that low doses of stress hormones could be administered before a patient has a major surgery or vaccination in order that their body can recover more efficiently.