Does stress impact the body’s immune system? According to a new study published in Nature Medicine, there is a definite relationship between stressful lives, and weakened immune systems.
The study was conducted by researchers from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, and was focused on monitoring the changes in white blood cell count among 29 medical residents working in intensive care units. The researchers took blood samples from residents while they were working, and while they were off-the-clock.
The blood samples showed that a stressful work environment leads to an overproduction of white blood cells. While white blood cells are an important part of the body’s ability to heal and fight infection, “If you have too many of them, or they are in the wrong place, they can be harmful,” explains study co-author, Matthias Nahrendorf. The extra cells can begin lining artery walls and have the potential to cause blood clots — which, in turn, can lead to a heart attack.
There are several ways both the medical community, and individuals, can try to prevent the development of atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries) and heart disease. People who want to reduce their potential risk can seek to make their work environment more comfortable and avoid stressful situations. This can not only help the immune system, but also increase how efficiently someone can perform their job.
Researchers, for their part, are experimenting with a single “genome-editing” injection that could lower the risk of heart attacks by 40% to 90%, according to Tech Times. Although the injection — which permanently reduces cholesterol levels by altering the PCSK9 liver gene — has only been used on mice so far, it is considered by most medical experts to be a highly promising advancement.