The Interconnection Between Anxiety and Inflammation

November 20, 2020

Mind-Body-Spirit, and the daily fear hypnosis.
-SD

Dr. David Hanscom is an orthopedic surgeon who quit his practice to focus on helping teach people about nonsurgical strategies for chronic back pain.

Stress, especially the chronic stress so common today, is closely linked to anxiety, and both can cause inflammation. Inflammation is an effective immune response for healing disease and injury but leaves the body depleted and vulnerable when it’s overactive.

The chemistry that unfolds in your body due to the stress-inflammation cycle has a profound impact on disease, pain, and your ability to feel well.

As explained by Hanscom, pain is very often a symptom of stress and anxiety. “You have to feel safe. When you feel safe, there’s a profound shift in your body’s chemistry.”

“You’re going from adrenaline, cortisol, histamines, and inflammatory cytokines to growth hormone, dopamine, serotonin, and GABA—all these incredible hormones and anti-inflammatory [compounds]. So, there’s a profound shift in the body’s chemistry, and people’s pain disappears. They don’t just manage the pain. The pain disappears.”

In essence, your body has two biochemical states. One based on stress and inflammation, and one based on relaxation and recovery. The first state helps keep you alive in a crisis—but can kill you slowly if it never shuts off.

Cytokines, Anxiety, Pain, and Poor Immune Function

Cytokines are small proteins that serve to regulate different tissues. There are both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines. Cytokines have specific relevance to COVID-19, as they modulate your immune system and its function.

By reducing or resolving stress and anxiety, you lower levels of inflammatory cytokines, thereby allowing your immune system to function better.

“Cytokines are everywhere. Every cell in the body has cytokines. It’s how they talk to each other,” Hanscom said.

He used non-neuronal glial cells in the brain as an example. These cells don’t produce electrical impulses like neurons, but they do put out cytokines. Glial cells are responsible for helping keep a state of homeostasis, which is when your body maintains a stable state despite changes in the environment. If these cells are putting out too many inflammatory cytokines, the impact can be significant.

Endothelial cells also put out cytokines, Hanscom said. These cells line blood vessels and create a permeable barrier that’s critical to wound healing, inflammation, and the blood-brain barrier.

In short, your stress response affects your body in profound ways at the very root of its life-sustaining chemistry. Inflammation caused by stress has a foundational role in the most common diseases of our day. This is something Hanscom wants more people to understand.

“When you have a threat—surgeons think in terms of muscle tension, sweating, and heart rate—that to us is a threat response, versus safety where you relax and regenerate. What I didn’t realize is that threat fires up the immune system, and ‘threat’ is all sorts of stuff. It’s viruses, bacteria, cancer cells, a bully, a difficult boss, but also your thoughts, emotions, and repressed emotions,” Hanscom said.

“Neuroscience has shown us that those thoughts and emotions are processed in the brain the same way as a physical threat. It turns out that every degenerative disease is, what Clawson says, the same soup. In other words, we know that cardiac disease, critical vascular disease, adult onset diabetes, obesity, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s are just examples of inflammatory disorders. It’s all inflammatory.”

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