The Connection Between Stress and Autoimmune Disorders: How Acupuncture Can Boost Immune Function and Reduce Inflammation 

 July 7, 2023

By  Steve Hoffman

Autoimmune disorders are one of the more rapidly growing diagnoses in the US. This classification of ailments does damage when the person's immune system overreacts and begins to attack healthy tissue. These diseases can range from skin issues, such as psoriasis, to damage to the brain and nerves with multiple sclerosis. Perhaps more challenging, autoimmune diseases are difficult to heal or cure, and most patients instead work to reduce the severity or frequency of their symptoms.

Some of this management involves lifestyle changes: eating nutritious food, practicing good sleep hygiene, and maintaining a level of physical activity. But the one element many people overlook when they begin to address their autoimmune disorder is stress.

The Impact of Stress on Autoimmune Disorders

Physical and emotional stress are anything but harmless. Stress has been directly linked to decreases in immune function and inflammation. People diagnosed with stress-related disorders are more likely to be later diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder. Once diagnosed, many people experience new stress as a result, which can exacerbate symptoms and worsen prognosis.

How Prolonged Inflammation Creates A Cycle

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to a threat and the immunological system’s reaction. In a healthy person, the inflammation arises, the issue is addressed, and the inflammation recedes. However, in people with autoimmune disorders, the inflammation overreacts to non-threats and is also stubborn and unwilling to dissipate. When the body is exposed to prolonged inflammation, people can suffer from fatigue, mood problems, digestive upsets, pain, and more. These symptoms can range from irritating to more severe: long-term inflammation has been linked to heart disease and cancer.

So a patient who has just recently been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, who has likely been feeling unwell for some time, now carries dangerous emotional stress. Their body is also responding to stress by increasing physical inflammation.

This can create a vicious feedback loop- the worse a person’s symptoms, the more stressed they feel. The more stress a person feels, the more inflammation builds up in the body and the worse symptoms they experience. And around and around, it goes until the person's life is truly unhappy.

Stopping the Cycle: A Two-Pronged Approach

Stress triggers autoimmune disorder symptoms. Managing that stress is one way to get a handle on symptoms. This might mean more directed changes to a person’s life, such as working a less intense career, switching to more relaxing hobbies, or taking on therapy or meditation. These are all excellent strategies.

The second element of stopping stress-related autoimmune symptoms is to enhance the body's immune system, helping it work as intended rather than over or under reacting to the wrong stimuli. Standard methods of boosting the immune system are dietary changes, getting and staying at a healthy weight, and avoiding things like alcohol and cigarettes.

But back to our newly diagnosed autoimmune patient. They're struggling with symptoms and the stress of the new diagnosis. Now, added to that, they're being told to make a wide array of changes to their life, all on the promise that if they comply enough and do everything right, they might see a decrease in their symptoms.

Unfortunately, this is not a scenario designed for success. Our stressed-out new autoimmune patient will try hard for a while but likely be unable to maintain the necessary changes over time. None of this even considers treating our patient's actual symptoms!

Acupuncture for Improving Immune Function

All the Western interventions listed above are effective when used appropriately and consistently. However, another option, frequently overlooked, can have a huge impact on stress and autoimmune disorder symptoms.

Acupuncture is an Eastern practice that is many centuries old. It works by manipulating the body's energy, directing it towards self-healing through manipulation and rebalancing. Not only has acupuncture been shown through studies to be highly effective at managing stress, but it can also improve immune function and reduce the severity of autoimmune-related symptoms and discomfort.

The practice of acupuncture is extremely safe for those with autoimmune disorders. It can be undertaken in conjunction with medication or other treatments, with no risk of interactions. There are no painful or frustrating side effects to acupuncture. Through acupuncture, all the body’s natural healing systems are stimulated, helping the immune system to function more efficiently.

Acupuncture also effectively reduces inflammation locally and holistically throughout the body. From a physiological standpoint, inflammation arises due to disruptions in the body’s functional processes. Inflammation can be alleviated by facilitating the restoration of these physiological pathways, reducing symptoms associated with autoimmune disorders. Acupuncture, as a therapeutic intervention, aims to address these disruptions and promote the normalization of bodily functions, thereby contributing to the mitigation of inflammation and related symptoms.

Just as the three causes -inflammation, stress, and autoimmune symptoms- are inherently linked, building on each other into a maelstrom, the treatment, acupuncture, can address each cause equally, calming the storm and helping to bring stability and comfort back into the patient's life.

Princeton Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

Our patients know just how effective treatments are for these and a host of other problems. Steven Hoffman, a New Jersey Licensed Acupuncturist and Diplomate in Oriental Medicine, will provide you with a thorough intake and evaluation and a clear, comprehensive diagnosis and treatment plan that will insure that your goals are met or exceeded. Do you want to move past these or other problems? We will help you thrive not just survive!

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