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Are Stressed Kids Sick Kids? Immunity and Emotional Health


July 18, 2013 | Published by

Despite your best efforts, do you feel like your child(ren) gets sick more often than other kids? Does it feel like he or she get sick at certain times throughout the year, without fail? Does your child experience recurrent cough, asthma or eczema? It could be that stress is making (or keeping) your young one sick. 

A less effective or poor-performing immune system can have many causes, such as a nutrient-deficient diet, antibiotic-containing foods, environmental chemicals, pharmaceutical drug use, exposure to secondhand smoke, stress, and malnourishment. The cause we’re focusing on in this blog is stress, more specifically toxic stress.

Stress can be divided into 3 types:

  1. Positive stress, which is short-lived and essential to normal development, like facing up to the fear of talking to new people or getting a shot
  2. Tolerable stress, which prompts the body’s systems to a higher degree, which may involve a natural disaster, the loss of a loved one, or a scary incident
  3. Toxic stress, which is considered the worst and the most damaging kind of stress, may involve a child experiencing prolonged difficulties like emotional abuse or neglect, or an unstable household

The consequences of stress on the immune system are generally adaptive in the short run, but can be damaging when stress becomes chronic. Children are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of chronic toxic stress, which can impair their immune systems and brain development. Toxic stress can impair brain circuits, which are particularly vulnerable during early childhood. High levels of stress hormones like cortisol, meanwhile, can impair the immune system, damage the hippocampus, and ultimately create a lasting impact into adulthood. This damaging stress includes long-term family stress like parents who fight on a regular basis, or who are going through a divorce, or constant bullying at school.

Research shows that children in highly-stressed families had a high level of cortisol, which is a biological marker of stress. Studies also point toward the fact that a high level of stress negatively affects the immune system–that is, it is not as resistant when the body is exposed to a high level of stress. Instead, the immune system reacts to substances in the body that should be left alone, which perhaps is linked to an autoimmune reaction.

American psychologist James Pennebaker, Ph.D.. discovered that children who reveal their feelings, anxieties and secrets to their parents, guardians and/or friends have healthier psychological profiles, better immune defenses, and less instances of acute or chronic illness. Another researcher, Psychoneuro-immunologist George Solomon, also found that children who assert their needs and feelings have stronger immune responses, as well as the ability to faster overcome a wide range of diseases usually associated with immune dysfunction. This puts the old adage “children should be seen, not heard” on its head.

Does your child seem easily stressed out, anxious, or unhappy? Don’t be afraid to talk with them about how they’re feeling on the inside. When our child becomes ill, we tend to look on the outside for what’s going on. We must not forget that emotional responses have a huge effect on the immune response. As a general rule, happy kids are healthier kids.


Bushak, Lecia. “Chronic Stress Worsens Kids’ Immune Systems, Ability To Fight Off Disease.” Medical Daily, 15 March 2014. <>

Carlsson, Emma, et al. “Psychological Stress in Children May Alter the Immune Response.” J Immunol 2014; 192:2071-2081.

Expertsvar. “High family stress can impact child’s immune system.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 February 2014. <>

Jakobsen, Siw. “Acute family stress can impact a child’s immune system.” ScienceNordic, 13 February 2014. <>

dr eric bakkerAbout the Author: Eric Bakker B.H.Sc. (Comp.Med), N.D, R.Hom. is a highly experienced naturopathic physician who has been in clinical practice for 25 years. Eric is passionate about improving people’s lives through proven wellness and lifestyle principles, natural medicine practice as well as public and professional practitioner education. Eric specialises in candida yeast infections, as well as adrenal fatigue, and thyroid disorders. Dr. Bakker has written one of the most comprehensive books on yeast infections called Candida Crusher. Website:  You can complete his online survey to determine if you have a yeast infection here, or link through to his many You Tube videos:  Dr. Bakker’s Blog:

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