Is Stress Aging Your Immune System Prematurely?

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Have you ever noticed the way older people get sick more often? That’s due to an aging immune system, which can’t fend off bugs the way spring chickens can. Now, a new study suggests stress can dramatically age your immune system, leaving maxed-out people at higher risk of illness.

“Adults who reported chronic ongoing stressors, major life trauma, and stressful life events tended to have cell percentages that indicated more immune aging,” says lead study author Eric Klopack at the University of Southern California Leonard Davis School of Gerontology in Los Angeles.

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There are two possible ways stress causes your immune system to age, says Klopack. The first is by leading to unhealthy behaviors like poor diet, which can shrink your thymus, an organ responsible for the growth of T cells (important for immune functioning). The second is that stress can activate a particular virus (cytomegalovirus or CMV) in the body that damages the immune system.

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“Since avoiding stress is often impossible, building up resilience and coping tools might be useful. A a strong social support network can help reduce the health risks associated with stress.”

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