Last updated on Jun 18th, 2020 at 05:28 am

New research shows that chronic stress changes gene activity in immune cells before they reach the bloodstream leading to an over abundance of the inflammation that is linked to many health problems.

The dangers of chronic stress

This is not just any stress, but repeated stress that triggers the sympathetic nervous system, commonly known as the fight-or-flight response, and stimulates the production of new blood cells. While this response is important for survival, prolonged activation over an extended period of time can have negative effects on health.

Born in the marrow

A study in animals showed that chronic stress changes the activation, or expression, of genes in immune cells before they are released from the bone marrow. Genes that lead to inflammation are expressed at higher-than-normal levels, while the activation of genes that might suppress inflammation is diminished.

Ohio State University scientists made this discovery in a study of mice. Their colleagues from other institutions, testing blood samples from humans living in poor socioeconomic conditions, found that similarly primed immune cells were present in these chronically stressed people as well.

Subscribe to our Free Daily All4Women Newsletter to enter

â??So what this suggests is that if youâ??re working for a really bad boss over a long period of time, that experience may play out at the level of gene expression in your immune system.” – Professor John Sheridan.

â??The cells share many of the same characteristics in terms of their response to stress,â? said John Sheridan, professor of oral biology in the College of Dentistry and associate director of Ohio Stateâ??s Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research (IBMR), and co-lead author of the study. â??There is a stress-induced alteration in the bone marrow in both our mouse model and in chronically stressed humans that selects for a cell thatâ??s going to be pro-inflammatory.

Link between stress and lifestyle diseases found

Under normal conditions, the bone marrow in animals and humans is making and releasing billions of red blood cells every day, as well as a variety of white blood cells that constitute the immune system. Sheridan and colleagues already knew from previous work that stress skews this process so that the white blood cells produced in the bone marrow are more inflammatory than normal upon their release â?? as if they are ready to defend the body against an external threat.

A typical immune response to a pathogen or other foreign body requires some inflammation, which is generated with the help of immune cells. But when inflammation is excessive and has no protective or healing role, the condition can lead to an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and obesity, as well as other disorders.

â??So what this suggests is that if youâ??re working for a really bad boss over a long period of time, that experience may play out at the level of gene expression in your immune system,â? said Sheridan.

Source: The Ohio State University

Recommended reading: Donâ??t sweep depression under the boardroom table

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.