Bulletproof Your Immune System
Video

Lesson 5: Reduce Baseline Inflammation by Reducing Stress

Lesson 5 Protocol 2

  • objective(s)

  • action(s)

  • resources

  • references

To sufficiently understand how chronic stress can disrupt immune regulation, and increase pro-inflammatory cytokine activity that you mindfully engage in stress-reducing activities.

Lesson Summary

To sum up the topic of stress relief, remember that stress and anxiety can negatively impact your immune system. Take these three steps to do something about it:

  1. The first step to control your stress is to recognize that you have it and where it’s coming from.

  2. The second step to control your stress is to be mindful of your self-talk and of attitudes that keep you in a stress state. You can use relaxing music or brain synchronization tones to relax or meditate.

  3. The third step is to take action. Begin a mindfulness practice and take adaptogens.

Reduce Baseline Inflammation By Reducing Stress

I’ve already touched on stress, but this topic is important; we need to go deeper into it, because chronic stress debilitates health. 

Here’s what we’re going to cover in this short lesson:

How a mindfulness practice can reveal the source of your stress and thereby reduce it; and the ability that three herbal adaptogens have on reducing stress.

The first thing to realize is that stress is not just a mental, or emotional state -- it gets physical.

Stress Impairs Your Immune System

When you’re stressed, your body sets off a cascade of physical responses that affect your immune function, hormones, cognitive function system and your circadian rhythm. 

Our focus is on how stress impacts your immune system. Once that’s clear, the next step is to become mindful of what generates your stress. This you need to know in order to let it go.

Way back in 1991, an experiment was conducted on 400 people to test the impact stress might have on contracting five different respiratory viruses. The researchers found that higher levels of stress were highly associated with more infections. [1]

Even if the research subjects had been previously exposed to the virus, and had specific antibodies against it, the incidence of infections were positively associated with increased stress.

Psychological stress disrupts immune regulation, and is specifically associated with increased pro-inflammatory cytokines. This is because stress chemistry is inherently inflammatory. Stress elevates cortisol and cortisol leads to widespread inflammation. [2]

A Yale University study solved a long-standing mystery of how acute stress seems to amplify inflammatory disease despite the fact many stress hormones actually suppress the immune system. [3]

Hormones released by the body in the face of stress, such as cortisol and adrenaline, can suppress the immune system, and yet stress somehow still seems to stimulate inflammation.

Now we know why.

The Yale researchers discovered that an Interleukin called Interleukin-6 is secreted by brown fat cells in the face of acute stress. 

Interleukins are a subset of cytokines, and like cytokines, interleukins are not stored within cells, but are instead secreted rapidly, and briefly, in response to a stimulus, such as a pathogen. It’s this immune mechanism that amplifies inflammation when we face a stressful situation.

These days, there are plenty of reasons to be stressed during this pandemic. Many of us fear that we’ll get the virus, and that it will ruin our health. Our personal finances have taken a hit. And the future is uncertain. When health and livelihood are under threat, it’s natural to be stressed.

So, what are you stressed about? What messages do you repeat to yourself every day? Are they negative or positive?

To get a handle on your stress level, you must first be mindful of how you communicate to yourself. Are your thoughts fear-based, anxious, negative… do they convey a feeling of being overwhelmed?

Perhaps you’re not even aware of how many of your thoughts are rooted in negativity because you’re not paying attention -- you’re not being mindful.

To put the brakes on stress, you must first be aware of how you’re getting stressed.

Get Mindful

Various mindfulness techniques such as meditation, breathing exercises, guided imagery do reduce stress. And these mindfulness techniques can reduce excess cytokine production. 

Mindfulness may also reduce C-reactive protein, as mentioned, a well-known marker of inflammation and tissue damage. [4]

I encourage you to adopt a daily mindfulness practice. What I mean by this is to become mindful of what runs your stress.

If breathing exercises, guided imagery or meditation isn’t for you, consider activities that simply calm the mind. Calming activities can include creative pursuits, relaxing music, a walk in nature. 

But if you need some extra stress relief, your mindfulness practices should include breathwork and meditation.

Some people in the military are taught to use breathwork to reduce the anxiety produced by warfare. I imagine you can get pretty rattled with bullets whizzing by your head and bombs exploding nearby.

This is what I call 4 by 4 by 4. It refers to a slow inhale of breath for 4 seconds, holding it for 4 seconds, then exhaling for 4 seconds, and finally allowing another 4 seconds to pass before your next 4 second inhale. 

I find that doing this breathing through the nose to be the most relaxing.

Be aware of how you're breathing. Let the inhale fill up both your chest and belly. Basically, everything from your neck down to your groin should expand with each breath in and contract with each breath out.

While doing this breath technique, you may find that visualizing something relaxing or repeating a meaningful mantra can enhance the experience.

If you’d like to go deeper into your own head, consider doing some meditation. This can be as simple as listening to brain synchronizing tones with headphones. These are available by the hundreds on Youtube.  

Play around with this. Find what best works for you. Along with a few Youtube meditation links, you’ll find links in the References tab to articles I’ve written about mindfulness and meditation, including brain synchronization.

Adaptogens Are Stress Response Modifiers

And now I want to turn to adaptogens, yet another way to help reduce stress and anxiety. The three adaptogens we’ll cover are: 

  1. Red ginseng, 
  2. Ashwagandha, and 
  3. Rhodiola.


Adaptogens are natural substances, typically herbs, that are stress response modifiers. They work to reduce the stress response and return systems back to 'normal'. 

Like with all herbs, use these three on an intermittent basis, cycling in and out of their use: two months on; one month off.

Red Ginseng 

Red Ginseng is made from the root of Korean ginseng, which is the same plant as Chinese Ginseng, but cultivated in different regions. The root of Korean Ginseng is steamed and dried in heat or sunlight to make Red ginseng. 

Chinese and Korean ginseng are among the most popular herbal remedies across the world. They are both generally regarded to be more potent than Siberian ginseng, and are probably better for someone who has experienced a great deal of stress, or is recovering from a long-standing illness.

Several studies indicate that Chinese and Korean ginseng can delay the onset of the body’s short- and long-term response to stress, and reduce its severity. This is referring to the fight or flight response.

Red Ginseng increases the release of interferon, which is a key component of antiviral immunity. Red ginseng also reduces symptoms of influenza from H1N1 virus - a different virus than SARS-CoV-2, but perhaps Red ginseng can have a similar effect. [5]

Red ginseng has anti-inflammatory actions in various inflammatory conditions ranging from asthma to autoimmune diseases to colitis, which is inflammation of the colon or the large intestine. 

In preclinical studies, Red ginseng has been shown to specifically decrease various inflammatory cytokines including one involved in the inflammatory response to SARS-CoV-2, which is called Interleukin-1 beta.

Ashwagandha 

Ashwagandha is an evergreen herb that grows in India, the Middle East, and parts of Africa. Both its root and orange-red fruit have been used for hundreds of years for medicinal purposes.

Ashwagnadha has been called the king of Ayurvedic herbs. 

Ayurveda is a branch of medicine originating from India. This herb is revered because it seems to confer many health benefits. It may, for instance modestly enhance strength performance, improve glucose metabolism, and increase testosterone level

But our primary interest in ashwagandha is for its potent anti-stress effects in the context of chronic stress and anxiety disorders. And it seems to do just that.

A study on patients exhibiting chronic stress showed that taking two capsules per day of 300 mg of high-concentration full-spectrum extract from the root of the Ashwagandha plant for 60 days brought down their cortisol levels by 28%. [6] The herb was also shown to have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. [7]

Rhodiola 

Rhodiola is the last adaptagon for you to consider as a stress reducer. It’s an herb that grows in the cold, mountainous regions of Europe and Asia. Like with ginseng, the root of the herb is used. 

Rhodiola appears to be able to significantly reduce the fatigue and 'burnout' that come from stress and anxiety. Numerous trials suggest meaningful positive effects, particularly in people with stress and anxiety issues. [8,9]

Your Takeaway

To sum up the topic of stress relief, remember that stress and anxiety can negatively impact your immune system. Take these three steps to do something about it:

  1. The first step to control your stress is to recognize that you have it and where it’s coming from.
  2. The second step to control your stress is to be mindful of your self-talk and of attitudes that keep you in a stress state. You can use relaxing music or brain synchronization tones to relax or meditate.
  3. The third step is to take action. Begin a mindfulness practice and take adaptogens.


If you'd like more information about adapatogens, see References 10 - 13 under the Reference tab above.

In the next lesson, you’ll learn that what you eat can substantially impact your baseline inflammation.

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