"Fight or Flight" Enhances Immune System
Chronic stress is unequivocally bad for you, but a study spearheaded by a Stanford University School of Medicine scientist has shown that short-term stress – the "fight or flight response" -- triggers hormoned that actually enhance immune readiness.
Lead author Firdhaus Dhabhar PhD and colleagues published their report in the online journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.The researchers reason that because the immune system is crucial for wound healing and preventing or fighting infection, both of which are risks during escapes and combat, the body has a built-in defense in reaction to threats to safety.The teamshowed that subjecting laboratory rats to mild stress caused a massive mobilization of several key types of immune cells into the bloodstream, which in turn carried them to the skin and other tissues. A university press release quotes Dhabhar as saying that this large-scale migration of immune cells during two hours is comparable to "the mustering of troops in a crisis." “Mother Nature gave us the fight-or-flight stress response to help us, not to kill us,” Dhabhar added.
The mechanisms Dhabhar and his team have described could lead to medical applications such as administering low doses of stress hormones or drugs that mimic or antagonize them in order to optimize patients’ immune readiness for procedures such as surgery or vaccination. “More study will be required including in human subjects, which we hope to conduct, before these applications can be attempted,” Dhabhar said but he added that closer at hand is the monitoring of patients’ stress-hormone levels and immune-cell distribution patterns during surgery to assess their surgical prognosis, or during immunization to predict vaccine effectiveness.