Stress & Immunity Study

July 19, 2022

Stop Stressin’

You may be wearing yourself out.
What a first-of-its-kind study teaches us about the impact of stress on our immune system.
What to know. Why it matters.

The Study

  • Who: 5,700+ adults, all over 50 years old.
  • What: Studied the relationship between difficult life circumstances during adulthood and the impact it has on the immune system.
  • How: Participants were asked about social stressors in their life (ex: stressful life events, trauma, etc.). Survey responses were cross-referenced with immune system profiles.
  • Bottom line: “Exposure to stress is a risk factor for poor health and accelerated aging.”
“Age-related changes in the immune system play a critical role in declining health. This study helps clarify mechanisms involved in accelerated immune aging.”

Lead author of the study, Eric Klopack, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Southern California. His research shows the immune systems of those with higher stress were less primed (not as ready to fight off infections and viruses). Dr. Klopack says we still don’t know if this is from stress itself, or lifestyles that often accompany a stressful life.

Wait A Second…

  • Some stress happens outside of our control; how can we mitigate that? Researchers say you can control how much you exercise and also invest in meaningful relationships.
  • Researchers found that when they controlled for diet and exercise, the correlation between stress and immune aging wasn’t as strong. It may be that people with more stress tend to have poor diet and exercise routines, and THIS is largely why the immune system ages.
  • Other researchers have shown those with tighter social connections have less stress.

While researchers continue to try to understand the aging process and how to live healthier and longer, it’s important to remember that the main thing “that contributes to immune aging is just aging” (Dr. Idan Shalev, Penn State University).

The annual “Stress in America” survey found that most Americans are experiencing an increase in stressors. A few of the top sources of stress among participants: Inflation (87%), supply chain issues (81%), and global uncertainty (81%). The 2021 survey found that the biggest stressors revolved around COVID-19.

The study: Social stressors associated with age-related T lymphocyte percentages in older US adults: Evidence from the US Health and Retirement Study

Stress Might Age the Immune System, New Study Finds (New York Times)

USC News: Stress accelerates aging of immune system, study finds

American Psychological Association’s 2022 annual stress survey (plus the 2021 report)

by Jenna Lee,