New research from the University of Southern California (USC) suggests that stress, whether from traumatic experiences, work pressure, or prejudice, speeds up the immune system’s aging process, raising the risk of cancer, heart disease, and infections like COVID-19.
To better understand age-related health inequalities and identify relevant targets for action, researchers have conducted a study on the pandemic and published it Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Immunosenescence is a normal decline in the immune system that occurs as individuals become older. The immunological profile of an older individual deteriorates, with fewer “naive” white blood cells prepared to take on new intruders and more tattered white blood cells in circulation.
Cancer, cardiac disease, pneumonia, vaccination effectiveness decline, and organ system aging are all linked to aging of the immune system.
USC researchers wanted to explore whether they could find a link between the immune system’s waning strength and chronic stress, a recognized risk factor for bad health.
They combed through massive amounts of information from the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study, a nationwide longitudinal research of older Americans’ economic, medical, marital, and familial status, as well as governmental and private support networks
Survey answers from 5,744 persons aged 50 and older were evaluated to determine how much social stress they had experienced. Social stress, encompassing traumatic life events, chronic stress, daily discrimination, and lifetime discrimination were assessed by a survey.
Flow cytometry, a laboratory method that counts and labels blood cells as they move one by one in a small stream before a laser, was used to assess the respondents’ blood samples.
When it comes to their immune systems, persons who are more stressed tend to have older-looking immunological profiles, with fewer new disease fighters and more worn-out white blood cells. When education, smoking, drinking, body mass index (BMI), and race or ethnicity were taken into account, the link between stressful life events and a decrease in naïve T cells remained robust.
The thymus, a gland that lies directly in front of and above the heart, is where T-cells are formed. A person’s immune system weakens as they become older because their thymus gland decreases and is replaced with fatty tissue. Poor nutrition and lack of exercise, both of which are linked to social stress, have been shown in previous studies to hasten this process.