A brief look at the impacts of stress on immune system function

Long-term exposure to stress causes several different responses in our bodies that ultimately impact our immune system. For instance, increased heart rate due to stress and anxiety can cause a rise in blood pressure, and if high blood pressure persists, it can lead to hypertension. Then there is the adrenaline we feel when stressed, which can lead to an increase in blood cholesterol levels, and occlusions of the artery or clots can result from high levels of cholesterol over time.

We can’t forget lymphocytes, A.K.A. white blood cells that help your body fight disease. High levels of stress reduce lymphocyte levels, which can leave you vulnerable to illness. Another major factor to note is the increase in inflammation caused by extended periods of high cortisol levels due to stress. Unchecked inflammation may lead to the development of certain diseases, such as psoriasis, fibromyalgia, arthritis, and lupus.

This insight into how stress affects immune system response helps us to understand the research done at Cedar-Sinai Medical center, which tested whether or not massage therapy can help support your immune system..

The short answer is yes!

We already know that massage therapy can relieve aches and pains, but through recent research at Cedar-Sinai, we now know it can help to support your immune system as well by relieving stress on the body.

“People often seek out massage as part of a healthy lifestyle but there hasn’t been much physiological proof of the body’s heightened immune response following massage until now,” said Mark Rapaport, MD, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at Cedar-Sinai.

In this study, 45 minutes of Swedish massage was administered to 29 subjects, while 24 subjects received only light touch for the same amount of time. Beforehand, blood samples were collected from each participant, and more blood samples were taken following the session.

The study showed that those in the massage group had significant changes in lymphocytes, and a large decrease in vasopressin, which is known as a key player in aggressive behavior and the increase of the stress hormone cortisol. Results didn’t stop there, with participants showing a lower level of cytokines as well, which play a role in inflammation.

“This research indicates that massage doesn’t only feel good, it also may be good for you,” said Rapaport.

Massage Therapy & You

Studies like this one showcase just how important body work can be on your overall health. This is why we at East Bridge Massage take such care and consideration into finding experienced, dedicated massage therapists to treat our clients. Every moment of a session has been carefully crafted to treat those aches and pains that are completely unique to each person, and we truly care about being an integral part of our clients healthcare team.

One of the ways that sets us apart from the rest is the importance we put towards continued education. All of our therapists come to East Bridge with years of experience, but we strive to build onto that with one-on-one classes and hours of training. Whether you want myofascial release, trigger point work, ashiatsu, and deep tissue, our massage therapists have the skills to make the massage experience tailored for each individual client.

This Cedar-Sinai study also reminds us that it isn’t just everyday stress and anxiety that can be alleviated by massage. There are events in our life that need special care and attention, such as cancer diagnosis, auto accident injuries, or prenatal and postpartum care.

If just 45 minutes of massage therapy produces results like these, we can only imagine what long-term benefits of massage therapy may look like. We are dedicated to finding out!

Authors note: We are not suggesting that massage therapy can help prevent COVID-19 or any other illness. Immune system health is always important!

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References

  • Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Adults Demonstrate Modified Immune Response After Receiving Massage, Cedars-Sinai Researchers Show, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, 7 Sept. 2010, www.cedars-sinai.org/newsroom/adults-demonstrate-modified-immune-response-after-receiving-massage-cedars-sinai-researchers-show/
  • Mcleod, Saul. “Stress, Illness and the Immune System | Simply Psychology.” Simplypsychology.org, 2019, www.simplypsychology.org/stress-immune.html
  • Bone, Muscle and Joint Team. “What Happens When Your Immune System Gets Stressed Out?” Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, Mar. 2017, health.clevelandclinic.org/what-happens-when-your-immune-system-gets-stressed-out/