Fruit Infusion to Combat Stress?

My latest story for North Carolina Science Now takes a look at NC State scientists at the research park in Kannapolis who have perfected a way to harvest the “good stuff" from fruit and add it to other foods, gaining the attention of the military and NASA.

It’s easy to say Dr. Lila and her colleagues are working on the fruit infusion program to keep soldiers, and possibly astronauts, healthy. However, one of the biggest challenges they are facing is the unhealthy effect of stress. It’s difficult to imagine the stress a soldier in combat or an astronaut is experiencing at any given time.

So, think about stress and health in your own life.

Have you ever noticed that just as you get a chance to relax for a weekend after a long, stressful period at work, you get sick?

Does it seem as if you end up with a cold at the exact time you must deliver a presentation to the neighborhood association, or the school board, or your work group at the office?

Or do you come down with a cold just as you are heading out on vacation to relax after an especially tough time at work?

It’s not just your imagination. 

Studies show 75-90% of all visits to the doctor’s office are for stress-related ailments. All the events I listed above are stressful, and stress suppresses the immune system, which lowers your resistance to colds. And that, of course, makes it easier to get sick.

That’s the finding of Dr. Sheldon Cohen, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University. In addition, Cohen and his colleagues found that the higher a person's stress score, the more likely he or she was to come down with a cold. The scientists surveyed a group of volunteers about the events happening in their lives and then exposed them to cold viruses. The volunteers who were coping with stressful situations - on the job, in their marriage or families, or with their finances - appeared twice as likely to get sick as those who were dealing with fewer problems.

The tests also showed that individuals with chronic stress, lasting a month or more, were the most likely to catch a cold. The risk of a cold more than doubled when the person experienced severe stress for several months. Stress lasting more than two years nearly quadrupled the risk. The study also found that stressful events affecting significant areas of a person’s life, such as unemployment or interpersonal difficulties with family members or close friends, had the greatest effects.

The interesting thing is, while scientists have determined that stress weakens the immune system, just HOW it weakens the system isn’t clear.

So, while the fruit researchers can’t do much about the stress of the mission, rations that are supplemented with natural, safe and effective fruit compounds can help counteract the negative health effects of stress.

Here are a few other thoughts (BUT DON’T GET STRESSED OVER THEM)...

Stress can create other problems that indirectly lead to catching a cold. Have trouble sleeping when you are stressed out? Stress is a major cause of sleep deprivation, which also makes it more difficult to fight infection.

In addition, when your body is stressed, it assumes you need physical energy to protect yourself. The hormones that are released, adrenaline and cortisol, trigger the sensation of being hungry, which causes a person eat more and thus give the body more calories to burn for energy. However, people don’t always eat well when they are under duress, and poor eating habits can weaken the immune system as well as pack on the pounds, which leads to obesity.

So keep calm and fruit on.

- Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!

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