Friday, March 4, 2011

How stress dampens immune response

It’s a common observation that those under high stress conditions get sick more often. High stress conditions promote higher levels of the adrenal hormone, cortisol. Cortisol, in turn, is known to lower immune function. But precisely how does it do this? Recent research has linked the cortisol effect on immune response to a cortisol-induced interference with immune cell telomerase. Telomerase is an enzyme required for telomere function, Telomeres are the ends of chromosomes, and are required for cellular division. When the chromosomes run out of telomeres, the cell no longer divides, and dies. This is one theory of the aging process; that is, some people have prematurely shortened telomeres in some organs, leading to the more rapid aging of those particular organs. As far as the relationship between cortisol and immune telomeres, by interfering with telomerase activity, immune response is blunted, leading to stress-related diseases. However, now that cortisol has been identified as the villain in this process, appropriate measures can be developed to prevent stress-related diseases in those who must function under high-stress conditions.

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