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Stress and the immune system: Bringing health back into our lives


According to the CDC, obesity is the greatest risk factor for COVID-19 death in hospitalized patients. The second largest risk factor is anxiety and fear-related disorders. It is well documented that chronic fear and anxiety are underlying causes of disease.

“Dis-ease is not a simple result of some external attack but will develop in a vulnerable host in whom the internal environment has become disordered,” writes Gabor Mate, M.D. “When the Body Says No: Exploring the Stress-Disease Connection” (2011).

In a study of over five hundred thousand patients hospitalized with severe COVID-19 illness between March 2020 and March 2021, anxiety and fear-related disorders were the second highest risk factor for death among the underlying medical conditions considered. Probable multifactorial reasons for severity of illness include a reduced ability to prevent infection among patients with anxiety disorders, immune-modulating and/or cardiovascular effects of medications used to treat these disorders, or severe COVID-19 illness exacerbating anxiety disorders. (Preventing Chronic Disease: Public Health Research, Practice and Policy, July 2021.)

“Stress is a complicated cascade of physical and biochemical responses to powerful emotional stimuli. Physiologically, emotions are themselves electrical, chemical and hormonal discharges of the human nervous system. Emotions influence — and are influenced by — the functioning of our major organs, the integrity of our immune defenses and the workings of the many circulating biological substances that help govern the body’s physical states,” writes Mate (2011).

Stress acts on many cells and tissues, including the brain. A stress response may be triggered in reaction to a real or perceived attack or threat — physical, biological, chemical or psychological, conscious or unconscious. Stress is not only caused by a single isolated event like unemployment, divorce, moving, or death of a loved one. The chronic, insidious daily stresses in people’s lives are more harmful in their long-term biological consequences.

The underlying cause of illness is inflammation. Stress causes inflammation and excessive stress increases inflammation.

Stress inducing factors like our highly inflammatory diet of sugar, industrial oils and toxins in our food supply and environment may contribute to Americans’ higher risk for inflammation, illness severity and death.

The Western diet common in the developed world is particularly inflammatory. Sugar, for example can cause a damaging inflammatory reaction throughout the body. In his book, “CURED,” Jeffrey Rediger, MD found a massive reduction in systemic inflammation when people switched to a nutrient-rich diet. “The link between inflammation and the immune system is clear, since inflammation is an immune response.” (2020)

People with inflammatory conditions are more susceptible to severe COVID symptoms, hospitalization and death, and at higher risk for adverse health events after vaccination. Evidence indicates people with high levels of chronic stress do not benefit as much from flu vaccination. Waning efficacy of current inoculations suggest a similar effect.

Factors that lead to stress include uncertainty, conflict, lack of information and loss of control.

The last two and a half years of chronic, unpredictable and pervasive daily fear, caused by the ongoing COVID crisis, has increased the burden of stress under which everyone is living.

The conflicting lack of clear information from media and public health officials has further compounded stress levels, by neglecting to offer specific prevention directives to improve healthy immune response, treat symptoms early at home and reduce infection and severity.

The ability to utilize additional preventive measures, such as early treatment and improving healthy lifestyle and behavior choices, alleviates the illusion of resigned helplessness and stress-inducing fear.

Article sources can be found in The Union’s online version.

Pauli Halstead is the author of “Primal Cuisine: Cooking for the Paleo Diet” and Joy Brann, MPH, works in health education and policy


The three most important factors for staying healthy are lifestyle, nutrition and mindfulness/meditation.

Nutrition: Eat more nutrient dense foods that are high in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Reduce sugar and processed food intake. Avoid genetically modified foods and foods sprayed with glyphosate, such as oats, wheat, barley, legumes (soy, chick peas, beans). Eat organic foods as much as possible.

Lifestyle: Embrace life with purpose. Nurture friendships and supportive social contacts. Volunteer in your community. Find joy in your job. Find time to play (art, music, sports, home improvement). Eliminate toxins from your environment, body and mind. Exercise!

Mindfulness/Spiritual Connection: Create your way to meditate. Go for a walk nature. Practice Yoga, Tai Chi or Qigong. Forgive often, especially yourself. Seek therapy if you need it. Practice your affirmations. Pray or meditate!


Underlying Medical Conditions and Severe Illness Among 540,667 Adults Hospitalized With COVID-19, March 2020–March 2021. Preventing Chronic Disease: Public Health Research, Practice and Policy, July 2021. Retrieved June 9, 2022

CURED: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. 2020. Jeffrey Rediger, M.D.

When the Body Says No: Exploring the Stress-Disease Connection. 2011. Gabor Mate, M.D.

Qigong in Pioneer Park in Nevada City. The ability to utilize additional preventive measures, such as improving healthy lifestyle and behavior choices, alleviates the illusion of resigned helplessness and stress-inducing fear.
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