Stress and the Immune System Linked

Role of spleen in prolonged anxiety after stress

Scientists are uncovering clues to what might be unfolding in the relationship between the brain and immune system in those who suffer from long-term repercussions of stress.

New research details those connections, specifically that an abundance of white blood cells in the spleen could be sending messages to the brain that result in behavioral changes long after mice experience repeated stress.

"We found that immune cells in the spleen can contribute to chronic anxiety following psychological stress," said Daniel McKim, a graduate student at The Ohio State University and the lead author of the study.

"Our findings emphasize the possibility that the immune system represents a novel therapeutic target for the treatment of mental health conditions."

The research was part of a series of related studies presented Nov. 13 in San Diego at Neuroscience 2016, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

McKim's co-authors and advisers, John Sheridan and Jonathan Godbout, are working toward explaining the complicated interplay between immunity and stress in animals that have experienced "repeated social defeat" in an effort to eventually improve the well-being of people who experience chronic psychological stress. Sheridan is associate director of Ohio State's Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research and a professor of biosciences. Godbout is an associate professor of neuroscience.

In this study, the trio of scientists determined that the immune cell changes persisted for almost a month after the mice experienced the stress.

"Stress appears to prompt the release of stem cells from the bone marrow to the spleen, where they develop into white blood cells, or monocytes, and expand over time," Godbout said.

"Then the spleen becomes a reservoir of inflammatory cells."

Sheridan said the spleen is now understood to be integral to the sensitization that happens after prolonged stress in mice, leading to anxiety and other cognitive problems down the road.

"It's like a stress memory," Godbout said.

In their previous work, Ohio State researchers have documented an increased prevalence of long-term anxiety and depression in mice exposed to chronic stress, a model that has been compared to post-traumatic stress disorder in people.

"Maybe anxiety is a good thing for survival -- it's beneficial evolutionarily -- but the issue becomes what happens when that system is put into overdrive. That's when it gets problematic," Godbout said.

Added Sheridan, "We're beginning to piece together more details about the bi-directional communication between the brain and the body and the body and the brain."

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Ohio State University. "Role of spleen in prolonged anxiety after stress." ScienceDaily. (accessed November 17, 2016).


Managing Menopause with Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork

Massage and Menopause

Traverse this Rite of Passage with a Helping Hand

Understanding the difference between hot flashes and night sweats is one of the bittersweet burdens every woman bears in life, but comradery doesn't make it any easier. Experts say we are in the midst of a giant "meno-boom" today, with more than 40 million U.S. women in the throes of this midlife rite of passage we know as menopause. The good news is there are many natural ways to make the transition a little easier for all of us.

According to a recent Cox News report, approximately 4,000 women enter menopause each day. The need for comfort and relief for these women follows them from the first stages of perimenopause through to the final transition.

Menopause is certainly not an easy passage for women or their partners. Those infamous hot flashes are the most recognizable symptom, but the effects of menopause include a host of other problems: dry skin, night sweats, poor memory, urinary incontinence, insomnia, anxiety, mood swings, headaches/migraines, bone loss, erratic menstrual cycles, vaginal dryness, painful intercourse and depression. For women in the midst of change, menopause is a daunting laundry list of symptoms that only seems to produce greater challenges each day.

Taking Menopause Back
Monica Brown, spa consultant and former director of the Greenbrier Spa Mineral Baths and Salon, said it's important to remember the resources available to women during this often tumultuous time. "Just as childbirth and death have been taken back from the medical community and given over to birthing coaches, midwives and hospice organizations, menopause, too, can generally be a natural passage for the vast majority of American women." She said nurturing and the healing power of touch are two valuable components in a treatment regimen for today's menopausal woman.

"Massage therapists and bodyworkers, whose purpose is to touch, nurture and heal, are in a perfect position to fill this need." Whether you look for help from your massage therapist, bodyworker or local day spa, there are numerous therapies that can diminish the worst of the symptoms and improve your ability to deal with the challenges you're still sure to face. Here's what some therapists are offering their menopausal clients:
- Massage or Craniosacral Therapy with special attention being paid to the abdomen and lower back.
- Relaxation techniques, including yoga, to alleviate stress.
- Aromatherapy massage and treatments with Clary Sage.
- Seaweed baths, body wraps for dry, sensitive skin.
- Acupressure to re-balance hormonal systems, as well as shiatsu and lymphatic drainage.
- Hydrotherapy algae baths to detoxify and re-balance the body.
- Reflexology as a natural alternative to synthetic hormones.

Besides the physical and emotional comfort, a woman going through the life-changing forces of menopause can find the oft-needed reassurance of her strength, beauty and womanliness in massage and spa treatments. It offers both a time for solace and inner thought, as well as a chance to attend solely to her body and spirit. Don't underestimate the very basic need for comfort and support that can be so important in a hormone-ravaged body.

It's Still About Stress
An Internet-based survey recently found a correlation between stress and menopausal symptoms -- the greater the stress, the greater the symptoms. It only makes sense to implement as many stress-reducing activities as possible, which puts massage and spa therapies at the top of the list.

Ask your therapist what they can do to help you through this trying time. Venture into a nearby spa to see if they offer any special services for menopausal women, as many facilities across the country do. And don't forget your own role in the process. Recognize your symptoms; find ways to walk away from stress; attend to your physical, emotional and spiritual needs; research your options; and above all else, relax. As they say, this too shall pass.

By Karrie Osborn


Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Fall 2002.

Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.