A stressful workplace may dramatically change gene expression in your immune system and significantly impact your health, a new study suggests.
The research shows that chronic stress changes gene activity in immune cells before they reach the bloodstream.
With these changes, the cells are primed to fight an infection or trauma that doesn’t actually exist, leading to an overabundance of the inflammation that is linked to many health problems.
This is not just any stress, but repeated stress that triggers the sympathetic nervous system, commonly known as the fight-or-flight response, and stimulates the production of new blood cells.
While this response is important for survival, prolonged activation over an extended period of time can have negative effects on health.
A study in animals showed that this type of chronic stress changes the activation, or expression, of genes in immune cells before they are released from the bone marrow.
Genes that lead to inflammation are expressed at higher-than-normal levels, while the activation of genes that might suppress inflammation is diminished.
“So what this suggests is that if you’re working for a really bad boss over a long period of time, that experience may play out at the level of gene expression in your immune system,” said John Sheridan, co-lead author of the study.