Global warming, economic crisis, wars, but also sadness or major disappointments in love: situationally or personally, stress is part of our life and can generate various organic reactions, including skin. In an interview with RFI, Brazilian dermatologist Carla Bortolotto, MD, member of the Brazilian Society of Clinical and Surgical Dermatology (SBDCC) explained the role of stress in the development of cutaneous autoimmune diseases.
Taiza Stefanin, from RFI
The skin is the largest organ in the body and undergoes various changes, which can be caused by stress, says the specialist. “The loss of a loved one or the separation of a spouse, for example, can be a ‘trigger’ and lead to some autoimmune diseases,” explains Carla Bortolotto. The term autoimmunity means that the immune system reacts in an unregulated manner and attacks a normally functioning part of the body. Once established, this condition becomes chronic and cannot be reversed without treatment or medication.
Stress triggers an inflammatory process, with the release of specific cytokines responsible for the onset of these diseases. Among the most important are, in addition to psoriasis (skin peeling), vitiligo (loss of pigmentation) and alopecia areata (hair loss) that affect many children, explains the dermatologist. Treatment combines different medications and the goal is to relieve acute-phase symptoms and improve quality of life.
According to the Brazilian specialist, patients who develop these diseases have a genetic predisposition – however, the genes involved in the process will not necessarily be “activated” throughout life. But serious events create a favorable ground for this to happen and for the manifestation of inflammatory diseases. Medications and infectious diseases can also cause skin disorders.
The trigger is due to stress on appointments
Autoimmune skin diseases indicate that the patient has a tendency to develop similar diseases, which can affect other organs, the doctor states. “When we have an autoimmune disease, the predisposition to developing another disease with this characteristic is 46%. Those who suffer from vitiligo have a higher chance of developing type 1 diabetes, or thyroiditis, for example,” explains Carla Bortolotto. Therefore, it is necessary to check for other associated diseases, which is common, says the doctor. Skin conditions can reveal other serious health problems.
Studies show that the stress that occurs in daily life is not responsible for the appearance of autoimmune skin diseases, as the doctor states. This association has only been demonstrated if certain traumatic events occurred. Carla Bortolotto reiterates that “the most accurate and definitive stress that we are able to relate, through the patient’s clinical history, is related to grief or separation from parents, as in the case of children, for example”. Scientific evidence showing that food and sleep can directly influence the onset of these diseases.
However, the stress of daily life can affect the skin in other ways. In addition to exacerbating other pre-existing diseases, such as atopic eczema, for example, it accelerates skin aging and causes the same effect as solar radiation, alcoholism and smoking on collagen cells. Collagen is a high molecular weight protein located in the dermis. When it binds to another protein of the same type, that is, when two collagens come together, they form an irreversible bond, called a glycation,” explains Carla Bortolotto.
In gluconeogenesis, a glucose molecule joins and destabilizes a protein, causing it to “break” due to loss of elasticity and tension, which leads to aging. “In order for glucose to occur, there is a release of specific inflammatory mediators for each type of change,” explains Carla Bortolotto. The good news is that in all cases, be it cosmetic or clinical treatments, they are getting more and more effective.
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