Stress weakens the innate immune system, which may contribute to Crohn’s disease flare-ups.


Stress may exacerbate Crohn’s disease flare-ups by weakening the innate immune system.

According to a study, psychological stress may contribute to Crohn’s disease flare-ups by impeding the body’s ability to fight off bad gut bacteria like E coli.

Crohn’s disease is a chronic illness that causes inflammation, scarring, and ulcers in the digestive tract, most commonly in the small and large intestine.

It’s a debilitating gut disease that affects around 115,000 people in the UK and nearly 3 million people worldwide.

Researchers from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, discovered that stress hormones suppressed the innate immune system of mice.

This left them vulnerable to the ‘Enterobacteriaceae’ family of invasive bacteria, whose members, particularly E coli, have previously been linked to Crohn’s disease.

‘The main takeaway is that psychological stress impairs the body’s ability to fight off gut bacteria that may be linked to Crohn’s disease,’ said McMaster University biochemist and paper author Brian Coombes.

‘Innate immunity protects us from microbes that don’t belong in the gut, like harmful bacteria,’ he explained.

‘When our innate immune system is working properly, it prevents harmful bacteria from colonizing us; however, when it isn’t, it allows pathogens to colonize places they wouldn’t normally be able to colonize and cause illness.’

The proper functioning and maintenance of the gut’s protective epithelial cell lining is crucial to the body’s innate immunity, according to the researchers.

To secrete mucus, repair the cell wall, and keep harmful microbes out, this barrier relies on molecular signals from immune cells.

The epithelial cellular wall can break down when the innate immune system is suppressed, such as by stress hormones, allowing microbes like E. coli to invade the gut and trigger Crohn’s disease flare-ups.

Abdominal pain, blood and mucus in one’s feces, diarrhoea, fatigue, and weight loss are all known symptoms of the inflammatory condition.

The researchers discovered that inhibiting the production of stress hormones in mice restored immune and epithelial cell function.

The researchers cautioned that, while their findings could lead to new Crohn’s disease treatments in the future, they are still in the pre-clinical stage and that much more work needs to be done.

‘The more we learn about what causes Crohn’s disease, the closer we get to new treatments and, possibly, disease prevention,’ said Professor Coombes.

The study’s full findings were published in the journal Nature…

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