Stress in life can contribute to autoimmune diseases, scientists are warning. Autoimmune conditions happen when the immune system attacks the body’s tissues, organs, and cells. A new study on mice published in mSystems identifies stress as a risk factor for autoimmune disease. It suggests that the gut microbiota plays a vital role in that connection.

Researchers found that the arrival of stress caused changes in the intestinal bacteria that stimulated the activity of immune cells in a way that raised the possibility that the body would attack itself.

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There are about 80 autoimmune diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and type 1 diabetes, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.