Sunday, June 23, 2013

Stressful Life Events can have Detrimental Effects on Your Immune System

The fight-or-flight reaction is something we are all aware of.  It kicks into action with chemical messengers called epinephrine and norepinephrine, among others.  Your heart beat increases, your blood pressure increases, your hands sweat, you feel anxiety, and the list goes on.  The purpose of this reaction is for protection.  This is a result of acute stress.  So what happens if certain life events cause chronic stress?

Chronic stress is caused by life events.  Life events include adjusting to a new marriage, losing a loved one, especially a spouse or a child, fear, social isolation, divorce, caregiving for an ill family member, becoming disabled as well as many other events in life.  The chemical messengers released during the fight-or-flight reaction remain at higher levels, and this causes stress on the body. The body is ready for acute stressors, but it cannot handle chronic stressors.  Chronic stress suppresses, dysregulates the adaptive immune responses, and depresses the function of certain immunoprotective cells (Dhabhar, 2013).

One research study identified the biological stress of baby piglets being weaned early.  One of the most stressful life events in a pig's life is the weaning from the sow.  This contributes not only to intestinal dysfunction, but it also contributes to a decreased immune system.  The combination of these outcomes results in reduced pig health, growth, and feed intake, especially during the first week after the weaning (Campbell, Crenshaw, & Polo, 2013).

The same occurs in humans when life events become chronic stressors. Physiological stress causes decreased immunoprotection, resulting in acute infections such as pneumonia, sinus infections, and  decreased capability of the body to accept the protective mechanisms of vaccinations. For example, only 50% of caregivers of patients with Alzheimer's disease responded to flu vaccinations, due to the chronic stress from the caregivine (Freeman, 2009).  Other detrimental effects of decreased immunoprotection include problems with inflammatory disorders as well as autoimmune disorders (Dhabhar, 2013).


Campbell, J.M., Crenshaw, J.D., & Polo, J. (2013). The biological stress of early weaned piglets. Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology, 4, 19-22.

Dhabhar, F.S. (2013). Psychological stress and immunoprotection versus immunopathology in the skin. Clinics in Dermatology, 31, 18-30.

Freeman, L. (2009). Complementary and alternative medicine (3rd ed.). St. Louis, MO: Mosby.

Let's Begin with CAM

During this modern age, information abounds on the internet.  Not all  information on the internet is correct.  But how do we know if the information is feeding us opinions or if it is honestly information that has been shown through research to be effective? The drive for knowledge, especially for taking control of our own health, is intense. Being educated about the true versus the bogus is essential to reaching for excellent health. Let's get started with some valuable information regarding complementary and alternative medicine and how it can help  to improve your health.

As part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health  opened a branch called the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). The purpose of this branch was to open a way for the research of these approaches to  health care  that have been (and still are to a certain extent) purported by Western Medicine to be a pseudoscience. The research is compelling in many aspects, although research on CAM is limited at this time. Time will bring more research-based information about CAM.

What is complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)?  NCCAM (2013) defined complementary as a "non-mainstream approach together with conventional medicine" (p.1).  Alternative is defined as a "non-mainstream approach in place of conventional medicine" (p.1). NCCAM states that it is not very common for one to use alternative medicine, but the use of complementary methods is widespread.

There are many different methods of complementary medicine. A few of which include natural products such as dietary or herbal supplements, acupuncture, massage therapy, meditation such as mindfulness meditation, movement therapies like Pilates and Structural Integration, relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, guided imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation. Others include spinal manipulation, Tai Chi, and yoga.

Complementary and alternative medicine bring together mind-body integration.  Freeman (2009) informs us that the mind-body integration occurs via interactions within the body itself to increase the functioning of the immune system.  These interactions occur through the endocrine system, the nervous system, and the immune system. In the next blog post, we will move through how life events effect these body systems to decrease immune function. Associated with the pathways between these body systems, chemical messengers possess the capacity to modulate the immune system. Cell behavior and physiologic responses to the affected immune system then affect health outcomes whether the outcome is increased immunity or decreased immunity. The next blog we will discuss how these pathways are changed and immune systems depressed through life events.


Freeman, L. (2009). Complementary and alternative medicine (3rd ed.). St Louis, MO: Mosby.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2013). cam basics. Retrieved from

Saturday, June 22, 2013


Welcome to my blog! I am Jenny Decker. I am a master's prepared registered nurse and I teach pre-licensure nursing students at a university.  My area of teaching focuses on the care of the older adult. I truly love caring for these people and have a special love for older adults dealing with Alzheimer's disease and dementia.  Currently, I am working on a PhD in psychology, with a specialization in Health Psychology. 

As for this blog, I hope to be able to incite you with a passion to learn more about Complementary and Alternative Medicine. In addition,  I will be your guide for topics related to Health Psychology in general.  In short, this blog will guide you through many aspects of reaching for a better healthy you!  Please feel free to jump in and comment on anything you want, as well as interact with me, too!

Hang on tight, because here we go!