Some Stress May Actually Protect your Body

February 8, 2023

Summary: It is well known that stress increases the risk of various ailments and may also result in flares of inflammatory conditions like inflammatory bowel disease. However, a new study suggests that some inflammation may promote healing and prevent flares. A study in mice exposed to 56 days of stress found that it resulted in increased TLOs formation and IL-23 and IL-22 expression, thus promoting tissue regeneration.

Everyone these days is talking about how stress may harm health. However, stress is unavoidable, it is a part of life, and it is what helps people to keep moving. Without some stress, people are not likely to do well in their life.

Continuous stress to meet deadlines may be unpleasant, but it also ensures that people perform. Moreover, it appears that some stress is also suitable for internal body functions. It helps train immunity and protect the body from various health disorders.

Therefore, stress should not be viewed as something that is bad in all cases. For example, it seems that overwhelming stress is bad for health, but stress in lower amounts is rather beneficial. Thus, whether stress would do good or harm depends on its severity.

Stress exacerbates autoimmune conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). In addition, people living with chronic stress are more likely to have flares. However, a new study by anxiety disorder specialists found that some stress may be good and promote healing.

In those living with chronic inflammatory conditions like IBD, intestinal tertiary lymphoid organs (TLOs) play a vital role in disease development. Generally, TLO appears to be associated with worse disease outcomes, but not in all cases. Thus, the role of TLOs remains poorly understood in IBD.

In the new study in mice models, researchers found that 56 days of stress caused a significant increase in TLOs formation, as expected. However, this increase did not lead to increased intestinal inflammation or worsening health. Instead, stress and increased TLOs resulted in better healing rates.

Researchers also tested for changes in microbiome composition in stressed mice. They found that stress did not lead to any significant changes. However, researchers also realize that measuring microbiome changes is challenging, and methods are prone to errors. Thus, they carried out fecal transplantation in stressed mice and found that this did not influence TLOs formation.

They further noted that increased stress resulted in higher production of IL-23 and IL-22. These two cytokines play a vital role in the TLO formation pathway. IL-22 especially appears to have a protective role, promoting wound healing and tissue regeneration.

Since TLOs play an important role in many other disorders, researchers thought that stressed mice might be more susceptible to the so-called “second hit.” However, they found that stressed mice rather demonstrated higher resilience and, thus, less severe inflammation after the “second hit.”

Thus, researchers found that chronic pain and stress resulted in increased IL-23 and IL22 production, making mice more resilient and boosting regenerative processes. These findings are unique in many aspects, as generally, stress has been associated with higher inflammation and reduced resilience.

This study also opens doors for other investigations since it is now important to find more about the protective role of stress in various other ailments. Moreover, stress also appears to protect from secondary injury, too. This is among the first studies to show that stress may have a protective role in the body, unlike early studies that mainly focused on the harmful impact of stress. Researchers say that it is important to build on these findings to understand if stress could also help protect from other ailments. Hence, the message here is pretty straightforward -a little bit of stress is good for your health.

The Bottom Line

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By Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA, MHP