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Effects of Acute and Chronic Stress on the Immune System



Literature Review


It has long been known that stress has a negative marked effect on the body. Stress can be categorized into two types: acute stress and chronic stress.

Acute stress is a short-term stress response, an immediate reaction to something potentially dangerous to an individual. For example, coming across a bear while walking in the forest, sparking an acute or “fight-flight-freeze” response from an individual. This type of stress response is key to the immediate survival of an individual in a potentially dangerous situation, and has been found to offer an evolutionary advantage to an individual by causing a positive or “immuno-enhancing” effect on the immune system.

Chronic stress is known as a long-term stress response as a result of consistency. Chronic stress happens when multiple acute stress responses occur in succession without enough time for an individual to calm down and reset before the next stress response is stimulated. An example of chronic stress is the constant pressure students feel trying to keep up with course loads. This results in a chronic stress response that has been found to have a negative, or “immuno-suppressive”, effect on the immune system.

The reaction of body systems to both types of stress is complex and involves many hormones and organs. This research took an integrative approach to examining the general immune health of an individual under acute and chronic stress, combining research on specific hormones, body systems, and stress types and summarizing these findings in one comprehensive project. Further, this research compared and contrasted other research done on acute and chronic stress separately, helping to demonstrate the important findings on the individual types of stress. An integrated understanding of the broad topic of stress is key to understanding how it affects the immune health of an individual as a whole rather than only a specific hormone or organ.

The interaction of stress hormones on body systems is important in understanding how acute and chronic stress affect the functioning of the immune system. This research is important because it can be utilized and applied in various other fields of research in an effort to increase general public health.

Student Researcher

Rachel Keizer


Bachelor of Science - Biology, '20

Dr. Vern Peters

Professor, Biology P: 780-465-3500 Ext. 8127 F: 780-465-3534
  • PhD, University of Alberta, 2003
  • BSc, University of Manitoba, 1995