Merigian Studios

Blog

Russian Roulette

Russian Roulette

A young woman with beautiful brown hair came to be evaluated for fatigue and shortness of breath. She related that she had been under a lot of stress for a long period of time. She was sure that she contracted a devastating disease because her immune system was impaired due to her constant unrelenting stress. She was vague about what the specific kind of stress in her life, but I was able to deduce from her answers that her's was extreme psychosocial stress, probably her abusive husband.

There are many studies showing a link between something that increases or decreases stress and some disease or mortality outcome. Psychoneuroimmunologists who study this phenomenon tend to use a simple approach to make the links. The first of four qualifications is that an individual in question must have been stressed in some way. Secondly, as a result of the stress, the immune response must have been turned on. Thirdly, the duration and magnitude of the stress-response must be great enough to suppress immunity. And forth, it appears that the odds of these individuals getting some infectious disease is increased due to depressed immune function. Furthermore, if they get ill, their recovery from the sickness is prolonged due to their depressed immune function.

Even though this approach appears logical, it is filled with flaws. In rodents and other animal models, researchers can stress them far greater than human subjects. The intensity and duration of stress in animals can be high enough to cause immune dysfunction and increase disease always. But it is very difficult to extrapolate from these animal models to humans. In addition, humans differ greatly on what they individually view as truly stressful. What seems stressful to one person may not be stressful to another. Even awful events such as the death of a loved one, divorce and financially threatening unemployment is viewed differently by those experiencing these stressors.

Another interesting phenomenon, humans have a tendency to exaggerate the stressor to which they have been exposed. If I gave 50 patients a pill known to cause stomach pains for a couple of days and did not tell them that the medicine was causing their symptoms, they might seek medical advice from a gastroenterologist. If the GI specialist thinks their symptoms are consistent with an ulcer, the doctor may ask about some particular stress that the patient may have been exposed to over the past several weeks. I think most of those patients would come up with some episode of detrimental stress and attribute the event to the onset of their ulcer, even though the medicine was causing the pain and the patient did not have an ulcer. People have a tendency to assign all sorts of illness to their perception of the stresses in their lives. Retrospective studies that rely on patient reports to link disease and stress are notoriously flawed in their conclusions also.

Massive stress will elicit profound stress responses. Small subtle stresses will elicit subtle stress responses. This phenomenon factors into the subjects perception of their stressor. If the subject believes that their stressor was massive when it was in fact subtle, the immune system will not be affected much. Massive amounts of glucocorticoids in the blood stream causes the immune system to hit rock bottom. But moderate amounts seem to increase immune function rather than suppress it. What psychosocial stressors are actually capable of inducing our bodies to secrete massive amounts of glucocorticoids over prolonged periods of time? I suspect few.

And this question emerges often: how much does a change in someone's immune function profile alter their patterns of disease? There are no certain answers. People who suffer from Cushing's Syndrome or AIDS are quite vulnerable to all sorts of unusual infections. But subtle changes in immune function does not necessarily cause a subtle change in disease patterns. The relationship is nonlinear or fractal.

After reading several laboratory studies related to immune suppression and disease pattern change, I realized that the investigators' findings cannot be extrapolated to the real world. Researchers do awful things to rodents to illicit a strong reduction in their immune function. Instead of allowing the rat to live its natural course of life and screening them for an increase in their natural susceptibility to disease, they inject or expose them to certain viruses to see what happens. The results are artificial. The scientists deliberately subject the rodents to viruses that would make any rat sick, stressed or otherwise. In the human world outside of a research laboratory, we might be severely stressed at work, or at home or both, but we are not usually injected with viruses to create illness or have them squirted up our nostrils. We pass through a world filled with scattered bacteria, viruses, parasites, carcinogenic substances, occasional widespread gastroenteritis, people sneezing and coughing on planes, buses and shopping malls and touching door knobs on public bathrooms. Clean hands seems to be our greatest defense against pathogens causing infectious disease.

When we get sick, we ask ourselves a couple of simple questions. Why me? Why now? Scientists have spent their careers trying to find out the answers. Why me? The most simple answer is that you were susceptible to the illness at the time you in which you were exposed. That simple answer is filled with health related complexities that have yet to be discovered, stress probably is the least of the factors involved unless it is extreme, then it probably is the most important. The answer is a mystery in most cases. Why now? The simple answer is that it was time. That simple answer is also filled with the multifaceted dimensions of time and the unfoldment of our natural self in accord with our unnatural man made environment both externally and internally.

There is no questions that chronic unrelenting stress is unhealthy. It constantly stimulates your sympathetic nervous system much like an endless game of Russian Roulette. For those who do not know what Russian Roulette is, it is a game. Your opponent places a single bullet in the chamber of a revolver, spins it and places it to your head. Then pulls the trigger. If the chamber is empty, you survive to play another round. If not, the game is over as well as your life.

Most patients play Russian Roulette each day. There is no gun but they experience extreme unnecessary stress that is capable of rendering them exhausted and empty. Lifeless. Life is a game of chance. I hope you reflect on those guns pointing to your heads and do something to remove them from your lives. You took the chance to get in the game, now take the chance to get out. It may be more difficult to get out of the game than when you got into the game. No matter. Get out.

Your health depends on it.

Doc
Posted by Amanda Sanders at 8:14 AM
Share |