- Stress is a common cause of colds they don’t tell you about
- How this hormone causes high inflammation… and can make us fat!
- A 5-minute stress buster
Drip, drip, drip.
That was the sound I heard when I was working from home last Thursday.
I ignored it at first.
Thought it might a tap in the bathroom.
But then I went downstairs…. to see a pond on the kitchen floor… and water coming down from the ceiling…. and the dog merrily lapping up the water.
Suddenly, it was phone calls to plumbers…
Phone calls to my wife…
All hell broke loose in chez Sampson.
Then my ceiling broke too – a whole panel was sodden with water and hanging low, then it fell with a sickening slap into my new indoor water feature – the amazing ‘aqua floor’.
Meanwhile my garden fence has collapsed because of severe winds… my car had to be taken in for a servicing because it stalled on the school run… and my wife and I have been tag-teaming colds and coughs since New Year’s day.
But there’s are good reason why we’re constantly battling colds.
Research shows that constant, nagging stress makes it easier to catch colds… and harder to shake them off.
Well, there’s a hormone called cortisol that gets released into your bloodstream when you are stressed. It temporarily suppresses your immune system, meaning that your body can’t use its inflammatory response to tackle bacteria and viruses.
But here’s the thing you might not realise.
Constant stress, or chronic stress, does the OPPOSITE….
It batters your immune system response over time and makes your system less sensitive to cortisol.
Which means that instead of controlling inflammation, this kind of stress raises your inflammatory response.
And that’s why you start spluttering, coughing and sneezing.
Because these symptoms are actually nothing to do with the bug itself… they’re caused by your body’s inflammatory response.
Dr. Sheldon Cohen is a professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, who has carried out a study on this.
““Stressed people’s immune cells become less sensitive to cortisol. They’re unable to regulate the inflammatory response, and therefore, when they’re exposed to a virus, they’re more likely to develop a cold.”
This is something worth bearing in mind. Because there’s more than just sniffles at stake.
The inflammation response is also a factor behind raised risk of stroke and heart disease, as well as cognitive decline.
So inflammation is something we should all try and tackle for better health. For more information, read this report:
The upshot is, keeping colds at bay is not all about eating fruit and guzzling echinacea – one of the key strategies is to reduce stress.
Of course, this is easy to say. But it’s impossible to switch off stress like a light, unfortunately, as life is just too complicated for that!
But there are a few things you can do….
How to reduce stress in 5 minutes a day
One method is to use breathing exercises. NHS Choices, suggests this daily breathing routine.
Find a place where you can spend a quiet 5 minutes away from a computer, telephone or TV (oh, and family, pets, noisy neighbours and anything else that makes you anxious or distracted).
Find a comfortable position. That could be lying down or sitting. For me, as someone who is constantly sat at a computer, it’s actually more comfortable to stand.
Anyway, once you’re comfortable…
• Breathe in deeply through your nose, and count to five.
• Exhale through your mouth for five seconds.
• Now breathe in through your nose again for 5 seconds.
• Follow this cycle of breathing for three to five minutes… in through the nose, out through the mouth.
You can also look at your diet…
Because lots of new evidence shows that your state of mind is loosely linked to your gut.
Rachel Kelly, author of The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food claims that 90% of serotonin (the chemical responsible for your mood) is made in your digestive tract.
She ate herself out of a depression by boosting her intake of mackerel, tuna and salmon. For non-fish eaters, you could do similar by adding more walnuts, flaxseed and green leafy vegetables to your diet.
This backs up research at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London which says:
“Even a short course of a nutritional supplement containing one type of omega-3 fatty acid (EPA) reduces the rates of new-onset depression to 10%, as opposed to the rate of 30% we usually see in this group.”
For instance, you could try this krill supplement, which is packed with omega 3 fatty acids. Its most powerful antioxidant effects are produced by astaxanthin which you don’t get in regular fish oil. It can help protect and stimulate the brain for a better mood, better memory and clearer thinking.
Stress can affect your weight too…
How stress makes us fatter
Chronic stress disrupts your sleep and messes with your blood sugar levels, leading to more cravings the next day.
This is because stress makes your body think it’s under attack, it releases glucose into your bloodstream to give an energy boost to your muscles.
But if you don’t use that energy up, your pancreas starts to pump insulin through your body to bring those blood sugar levels down.
As this happens, you get huge food cravings that are hard to resist.
A recent study carried at King’s College, London showed that sleep-deprived people eat, on average, an extra 385k calories each day.
So one of the keys is to regulate your sleep, as best you can. This will reduce stress and help stop the cycle of tired over-eating.
For more details, read this issue of The People’s Doctor on our website: Why Sleep Is So Important.
Until next time, stay healthy and free of colds!