Stress Lowers Immune System Functioning

Published Online: Wednesday, January 1, 2003

In addition to making people more susceptible to illnesses, chronic stress can impair the immune system?s ability to respond to its own anti-inflammatory signals, researchers reported in Health Psychology (November 2002).

The researchers examined 25 healthy parents with children undergoing treatment for cancer and 25 healthy parents with healthy children. Salivary cortisol and blood samples were taken from the parents.

As expected, the parents of children with cancer reported more psychological distress than the parents of healthy children. The parents of children with cancer also were more likely to have diminished sensitivity to glucocorticoid, a hormone that is responsible for turning off the inflammatory response following infection and/or injury. Additionally, the findings showed that social support lessens the impact of stress on the immune system.

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