Stress Disorders Tied to Autoimmune Disease

People with post-traumatic stress disorder or related conditions were more likely to develop autoimmune illnesses.

Comments: 25

  1. It's been known for decades that the body attacks itself when the fight or flight response is not implemented during danger. The reptilian brain at the very top of our spine demands a binary response to threats: run or fight. There is no other option. If neither option is satisfied then the body initiates a chemical action against itself. To see experiments that verify this there is a French movie called "Mon Oncle d'Amerique" that demonstrates how this works. Very useful knowledge to have. We can fool the body by actually running, swimming, or hitting a stuffed something or other in order to satisfy the response. In modern society physically fighting someone could result in job loss or prosecution so that is no longer a viable option. Therefore, pretending to run away by physically running or actually running away is usually the only choice we have.

  2. Actually, there is a third option the reptilian brain uses when fight or flight isn't used; it's freeze. This is a common stress response and can manifest as shock or dissociation. It's a fairly common response to continuous stress.

  3. It's actually the opposite. When the brain perceives a (real or non existent) threat, the amygdala (= reptilian brain) go in "FFF mode": freeze-fright-fight (3 options). When that happens, they flood the brain with stress hormones (cortisol, ...), which have a direct effect on heart rate, blood pressure, etc., but also on the hormones designed to repair your body (as there's no time for repairing during an emergency). If the cause of the perception of threat becomes permanent, then it's the amygdala who constantly take over, thereby putting the brain in constant emergency mode. Neither the acute amygdala action nor the chronic one, however, can be called "the body initiating a chemical action against itself". These are on the contrary actions designed to save your life ... ! So the negative effects on your health are cause by the side-effects of having too much cortisol and other stress hormones permanently in your blood, as in that case, you body doesn't have any time to repair its (normal daily) damage anymore. Running, swimming etc. all increase the opposite of stress hormones, namely endorphines, which make you feel good, BUT also contribute to repairing the body and immune system, so yes, exercising is good for people under stress, not "fooling the body" ... ! Finally, there are ways to learn how to actively calm down your amygdala (meditation, for instance, which develops new brain networks and chemicals), which is much more effective than "running away" ... ;-)

  4. One of my research interests is autoimmune disease. It would have been good if the article had stated this was a retrospective study. When I read it was 10 years of follow-up, I thought it was a prospective study. The problem with retrospective studies are they make it hard to nail down if it is an association or if stress disorders can cause autoimmune disease I(which is really the question). A quick look also shows that while they matched for age/ sex, etc. there are still many factors that might have contributed to autoimmune disease which were unaccounted for in the decade. So, I'm glad they did the study but we still need answers. (BTW, if anyone's curious, US researchers are often unable to do studies on such a large scale (except under rare situations like the military but keep in mind people in the military are different in significant ways from the civilian population) because we lack a national health care system and patient database. These types of studies are often done in Europe and in Asian countries (e.g. Japan, Taiwan, etc.) with these systems in place. A less talked about but significant reason for a national healthcare system.)

  5. I would be interested to learn more about how this relates to research into Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), my understanding is that the stress that a high ACEs score indicates is strongly linked with adverse health conditions later in life.

  6. I had tremendous stress as a small child and as a teenager, then developed rather severe anxiety in my twenties and after an extremely stressful 6 month period, I had a large seizure and was eventually diagnosed with auto-immune encephalitis three years ago. This is my story in a nutshell but I feel like my anxiety definitely comes from my childhood experiences.

  7. @ Alicia One of the books I found most useful on this topic is about "emotional eating", but as the author explains, you can apply it to anything you do in order to lower stress and that you know isn't good for your health (eating, drinking, tv watching, substance abuse, ...). It's called "When food is comfort. Nurture yourself mindfully, rewire your brain, and end emotional eating", written by Julie M. Simon. She explains how there are seven basic self-care skills, which have to do with how we deal with emotions, which ideally primary caregivers were very good at (because someone taught them how to do this), and if that's the case, then through thousands of small interactions with the child each day, they show it how to do so. And in that case, brain networks linking the prefrontal lobes to the amygdala (= responsible for the freeze-flee-fight reaction when there's a perceived threat) start to develop, and can calm down the amygdala when the threat is gone and their reaction is no longer needed. If you do NOT develop these brain networks, the amygdala take over the entire brain permanently, and that is what "chronic stress" feels like. Drinking alcohol (= temporary increase in endorphines, which restores the chemical balance) or distraction through binge watching are all external ways to reinstall some brain balance, but they aren't a real solution, and in the end keep anxiety high. The good news is that you can learn to develop those network at any age... Take care.

  8. This is not news. There are clear connections between trauma and autoimmune disorders. The Body Keeps the Score...

  9. Severe is such an instigator of so much of what ails us! The brain -body connection has been talked about over the years and many studies concur what a huge effect our state of mind has on our health.Perhaps it's time to accept this as fact and get on with the job of protecting our mental health every bit as much as our physical health.I know...way easier said than done!

  10. Could we legalize magic mushrooms, which are now acknowledged to be a cure for PTSD and several other mental health issues?

  11. Yes. This. My body told me early & often. Docs very slow to make connections, or to 'believe.'

  12. Are the numbers correct? the incidence of autoinmume among siblings does not seem to be less than that among stressed folks, or not by much.

  13. There were about 25% more stress-free siblings in the study than there were patients with a severe stress conditions, so when the number of people getting an autoimmune disease is the same, in absolute terms (about 8,000), it means that proportionally, those patients had a higher chance to get an autoimmune disease. In other words, if 8,284 out of 106,464 get it (patients) compared to 8,151 out of 126,650 (stress-free siblings), then the probability to get it as a patient is indeed higher than the probability to get it as a sibling, you see?

  14. As an archaeologist who suffers from PTSD, and who studies human remains from the distant past, I am always wondering how people coped with the immense stressors that typified society then. From the constant threat of attack and enslavement by either your neighbouring tribe or travellers from afar, to the unpredictable weather that could result in crops drying up, or frequent death in childbirth, or stressful cultural practices such as human sacrifice etc. I often see the evidence in the bones we dig up. Certainly our stress levels are not higher now than there were in the past. Did everyone walk around all the time with PTSD in the past, and if so, maybe that explains some of the famously flawed individuals in history....

  15. Tibetans who had to flee horrible atrocities committed by the Chinese government, also went through huge suffering and stress. And yet, although feeling intense sadness when as refugees they thought about the fact that they lost all possessions and many close relatives ... they remained remarkably resilient and even joyful. How did they manage to do so? Studies show that resilience is a skill that you can train - but that unfortunately we in the West don't train in any systematical way, so either you were lucky and your parents had the chance to learn how to cultivate this from their primary caregivers, or you belong to the majority who almost didn't learn it at all. Experts define "resilience" by the time needed to fully recover after a setback or traumatizing event. It turns out that those who intensely cultivated specific self-care techniques (all related to dealing with emotions), developed networks in the brain that start connecting prefrontal lobes to the amygdala, and as such allow you to actively turn down the amygdala's chemical stress reaction - stress being the amygdala flooding your brain with "stress hormones", hormones that put your heart, organs etc. in a fight-flight-freeze mood. Chronic stress means that the amygdala are running the show all the time ... And that's how those Tibetans managed to keep stress low. Buddhists developed tools to cultivate these skills 3,000 years ago already, so maybe the people whose bones you dig up did so too ... ?

  16. Great question. The problem with toxic stress, as opposed to stress, is that it does not abate and resolve. Our systems were designed to flight/flee/freeze and then recover and calm down. We were not designed for unremitting stress. The toxic effects of stress happen when the same stressor is there long term and the resolution/ re-establishing safety process does not take place. I would also guess that early humans had much more tactile closeness with parents (a large mitigating factor for stress)-- sleeping curled up together, breastfeeding in terms of years not weeks, etc. Their attachment systems were more robust, and they did not have 24/7 information overload as we do.

  17. @ Megan Tibetans who were persecuted etc. nevertheless managed to stay healthy and even joyful. Why? Because we weren't "designed" for doing this or that at all. Our brains happen to be extremely flexible, and constantly evolve and learn. "Toxic stress" means that the amygdala continuously flood your brain with stress hormones, putting you in a permanent FFF mode. Studies have shown that whether they do so or not isn't determined by childhood or adult trauma. Stress is the way we REACT to trauma. And there are always different options available - at least biologically. Indeed, it's "self-regulation" skills that offer those alternatives, IF sufficiently developed. And indeed, a primary caregiver CAN develop these brain networks in a child, but only if he already managed to develop them within himself, and through very specific interactions. Physical contact is important, as it increases the "happiness" hormone ocytocine in the brain, but that's just one aspect of one self-care skill: soothing and calming yourself when you feel negative emotions coming up. The other skills (which all can be trained) are: - popping the hood: naming and tracking emotions and bodily sensations - practicing self-validation ("it's okay/normal/... to feel this way") - offering love, support and comfort - getting clear on needs - catching and reframing self-defeating thoughts - highlighting resources and providing hope - addressing needs and setting nurturing limits. Info: Julie Simon.

  18. According to Dr. Andrew W. Campbell, an autoimmunology specialist, " Triggers of autoimmunity are principally environmental. The number of possible environmental triggers is vast and includes chemicals, bacteria, viruses, and molds. Examples of these triggers are given and include the mechanism of action and method by which they bring about autoimmunity." According to Dr. Christopher Shade, a specialist of environmental toxins, our body switches to sympathetic "Fight or Flight" mode when we are under so much chronic stress, then toxic glutamate excess in the brain occurs,and cortisol, a stress hormone, increases under this parasympathetic autonomic mode, which shutdowns our body's own repair and detoxification pathways.

  19. THE key anti-stress device in a human being is Emotional Self Regulation. This little-known-about skill is learned within the primary attachment relationship, as a right brain to right brain download from mother to child. As the mother comforts a baby, she is imbuing that baby with the skill set for self comfort. "Shh, it's ok, Mommy's here" x 10,000. Practices like "cry it out," intended to "teach" self control, actually threaten Emotional Self Regulation. The more babies are held, carried, and comforted very rapidly when upset, the better they learn this wordless skill set for self regulation. They also learn softness and compassion towards the self. This is implicit learning via self-states. Many chronic stress disorders as well as mental illnesses involve poor emotional self regulation due to harsh childhood experiences, which failed to teach it.

  20. The only thing surprising about this is that so many people are still not aware of the connections between stress, autoimmune diseases, and general good health. Rather than being news, this should be common knowledge.

  21. For anyone who wants to dig a bit deeper (and is kind of nerdy), Dr. Rhonda Patrick has some really good (free) episodes on this topic in her podcast, "FoundMyFitness." There are many complex links between inflammation and autoimmune issues, psychological issues, hormones, and even diet, sleep, and sunlight! Like another commenter (Scott in MT) suggested, it is a shame more people don't know what is well-known in the scientific community.

  22. I had panic attacks associated with hot flashes. Finally all my hair fell out (which is an autoimmune thing). I expected the panic attacks to lessen with age and a few months ago I started taking 3000 mcgs of Vit. A per day. Either my older age (60) finally kicked in, or the Vit. A works because I don't have panic attacks anymore. Don't know if the hair will return.

  23. Hair loss with autoimmune disease is so difficult. Twice I’ve experienced profound hair loss. It mostly grew back, but it can be emotionally devastating.

  24. Beyond psychiatric expressions, fight-or-flight 'stress' is modulated within the brain by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Its impact, in this broader sense, has recently emerged as the field of Immuno-autonomics. Patients have been telling us this for years. Finally, we are beginning to understand, measure and manage the ANS to help those with autoimmune diseases to get their life back. See what is happening at Inmedix, SetPoint Medical, Galvani, GSK, Cleveland Clinic rheumatology, the U Amsterdam, etc.

  25. I would be curious to understand different types of stress and whether they are equivalent for effects on the immune system or other aspects of health. For example, there is physiological stress such as parental smoking affecting kids in utero or second hand smoke in the home. And there is psychological stress.