Medical residents regularly exposed to chronic stress were found to have elevated white blood cell counts. White blood cells are a crucial part of the body’s defense against invasion, sickness, and disease. They search out and destroy invading pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria. Too many, however, can be a sign of disease.
Dr. Matthias Nahrendorf and his team at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School discovered this elevated immune cell state in the residents and investigated the cause by conducting animal experiments. Nahrendorf exposed mice to stressful situations for six weeks. Just like in the stressed doctors, increased levels of white blood cells were observed in the mouse blood after six weeks. The research team found that elevated levels of the stress hormone noradrenaline actually made its way into the bone marrow, where white blood cells are produced. There they bound to cell receptors on stem cells, altered the chemical environment of the bone marrow, and activated the stem cells, thus increasing the production of white blood cells.
A high white blood cell count is considered an indicator of inflammation. As a result of their research, Dr. Nahrendorf’s team now views elevated white blood cells as initiating or triggering inflammation. They observed in mice that this increase in white blood cells and inflammation promoted the development of atherosclerosis. The development of atherosclerosis is a process that results in the accumulation of fatty plaques inside blood vessels. In addition to fats and cholesterol, plaque contains white blood cells that cause inflammation in the walls of blood vessels. When plaque breaks loose from arterial walls, it can block smaller arteries elsewhere, in the heart and brain, causing a stroke or heart attack. In summary, mice developed high-risk atherosclerotic plaque, the kind that leads to heart attack and stroke—all because of chronic stress. In essence, stress found its way into the bones and altered the immune cell production.
…mice developed high-risk atherosclerotic plaque, the kind that leads to heart attack and stroke—all because of chronic stress.
The scientists then blocked the receptors on the bone marrow stem cells to which the stress hormones were attaching. Because the stress hormone now could not attach to the receptor, cellular behavior was not influenced as before. In other words, stressed mice whose receptors were blocked so they no longer perceived stress not only had fewer dangerous plaques, but also had reduced levels of the active immune cells in their plaques. Dr. Nahrendorf concluded, “It makes sense that stress wakes up these immune cells because an enlarged production of leukocytes prepares you for danger, such as in a fight, where you might be injured. But chronic stress is a different story—there’s no wound to heal and no infection.”1“Exposure to psychosocial stress is a risk factor for many diseases.”2 In the words of Solomon, “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24).
Epidemiological studies have also confirmed that people who face significant stress, whether Hurricane Katrina or from just plain overwork, have a much greater likelihood of developing atherosclerosis. This is just one of the ways stress impacts our health. There are others. Stress has been implicated in elevated blood sugar, autoimmunity, conditions of the digestive system, obesity, and anxiety. Stress can tighten muscles and release powerful chemicals into our body that can cause hearts to race, blood pressure to soar, and increased inflammation. The point is that what is experienced as thoughts in the brain, which shape emotions, attitudes, and mental states, are translated into molecular behavior, regulating biochemical mechanisms. Our health is impacted not only by external toxins that invade and distort how the body operates, but also by internal ones.
A very interesting thing about environmental or internally generated toxins is that they can cross over between mind and body. Environmental toxins such as heavy metals, for example, can have mental effects and toxic thoughts can have physiological effects. In reality, thoughts, beliefs, and emotions are not separate from the physical body. They are expressed biochemically, as a cascade of neurotransmitters, cellular responses, and human biochemistry. Positive thoughts can impact our physiology in beneficial ways. Selfish, fearful, angry, revengeful, lustful, bitter, wayward, self-deprecating, doubtful, critical, negative thoughts are literally dangerous. They are the Monsanto within.
Our health is impacted not only by external toxins that invade and distort how the body operates, but also by internal ones.
The American corporation Monsanto, the GMO/Roundup mogul, is responsible for producing thousands of harmful chemicals. The Monsanto within produces who knows how many internally generated toxins. You could eat organic food, use natural beauty products, not use plastic water bottles, and live in pristine conditions, yet you’d still be stuck with yourself.
In the pursuit of health, detoxification is necessary, but it must be of the whole person. We need to be cleansed of toxic thoughts, limiting beliefs, crippling emotions, and fears. Consider instances in which individuals receive a terminal cancer diagnosis and are given two months to live. Death results within that time period despite a misdiagnosis, and upon autopsy, the tumor is found to be benign. I have heard the reverse to be true as well. People defy their diagnosis and live long after the sentence all because of what science has termed the placebo/nocebo effect.
I believe our need of deep detox is being referred to in these verses: “How much more shall the blood of Christ… purge your conscience from dead works…. our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience” (Hebrews 9:14, 10:22, KJV). God doesn’t want just my actions cleansed of dead works. I need deeper healing than that. I need detox in the inner precincts of my conscience, my perceptions of mind and heart.
God has identified Himself as the Purifier and His blood as the most powerful purifying agent. Jesus said, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me” (John 13:8, KJV). “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver. He will purify the sons of Levi and purge them as gold and silver” (Malachi 3:3). The Holy Spirit, God’s Word, and trials and struggles are all necessary ingredients to the process. I am so thankful that we have a faithful Purifier, a heavenly High Priest applying His cleansing blood to our toxic selves. The promise is sure. “In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness” (Zechariah 13:1).
- Sarah P. Williams, “How stress can clog your arteries,” Science, 6/22/14, https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2014/06/how-stress-can-clog-your-arteries.
- Sarah Knapton, “How stress damages the heart,” Telegraph, 6/24/14, https://csb.mgh.harvard.edu/data/wiki_pages/27/telegraph.pdf.
Risë Rafferty, RDN
Risë is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and has been writing and teaching about health for many years. She loves the health message and takes great pleasure in seeing people thrive by the application of its principles. Her research and down-to-earth manner allow her to offer up the health message in both an intelligent and accessible manner. She and her husband, James Rafferty, have two children.