Vaccine aimed at treating stress before it starts being developed

BOULDER, Colo. – Nearly 80 percent of Americans say they feel stressed out at work, and when you’re stressed, your heart rate increases and your blood pressure rises.

If you suffer from chronic stress, you’re at higher risk for heart attacks, stroke, obesity, depression and the list goes on and on. Now, there may be a solution. A stress vaccine that could take away your stress before it starts.

Police officers, airline pilots, firefighters, and the military. These are the four most stressed-out workers. There are pills to treat symptoms and therapy to talk through it.

“Currently what we really work with is after the fact," said Lisa Brenner, a rehabilitation psychologist at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. “If we could do something to prevent over-responsivity.”

Brenner and neuroendocrinologist Christopher Lowry at CU Boulder are targeting stress before it starts.

Lowry’s team at the University of Colorado Boulder hasn’t discovered something new, but something old and abundant that could take away stress.

“Bacteria that are found in the soil, that dust, the mud, decaying vegetable, vegetable matter can confer this protective effect of preventing inappropriate inflammation,” said Lowry.

The bacteria found in dirt contain fatty acids that bind with receptors inside immune cells and lockout chemicals that cause inflammation. It’s a vicious cycle where inflammation triggers stress and the stress then triggers more inflammation. It’s based on the idea that as more and more people move away from farms, away from agriculture and getting their hands dirty, they’re moving away from things that build their immunity. In mice, this “stress vaccine” prevented a PTSD-like syndrome in the short term and diminished stress reactions later on.

“This suggested that if you can immunize and prevent inappropriate inflammation, then you can prevent a lot of negative outcomes of future stressors,” Lowry said.

That means a vaccine, a pill, a nasal spray could actually stop stress and everything that comes with it, before you feel stressed out. The vaccine could also possibly help prevent other inflammatory diseases triggered by stress such as IBD and colitis.

Lowry said it could take up to 10 years to get the stress vaccine to market; however, simple exposure to any soil may have dramatic health benefits. Several studies suggest people who grow up on farms or in the country feel less stress, experience less depression, and are less likely to suffer from allergies and asthma.

Contributors to this news report include: Marsha Lewis, Field Producer; Rusty Reed, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.