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Study: Stress could help fight chronic inflammation in the body

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A new study finds that if the human body is placed under enough stress, the immune system will stand down, which could help a person suffering from an autoimmune disease like multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis find relief without drugs.

Researchers made this discovery after having their Dutch subjects do some very odd things, the Los Angeles Times said. For days, the adults — all in good health — went through a cycle of cold exposure (think swimming in frozen ponds and hanging out barefoot in the snow), meditation, and alternating hyperventilation and breath-holding. Then, the group was exposed to a toxin that usually causes flu-like symptoms, and researchers saw that their production of the anti-inflammatory substance IL-10 went up, and their innate immune response was suppressed.

The Times reports that these findings challenge two assumptions about human health: that the autonomic (involuntary) nervous system cannot be trained in a way that overrides its control of functions like blood pressure and perspiration, and that short of getting a vaccine, no behavioral intervention can make the immune system rev up or stand aside. The study was published Monday in the journal PNAS.