“People exposed to chronic social conflict experience high levels of stress and consequent dysregulation of the immune system, thereby increasing vulnerability to infection and autoimmune disease,” said Mary Meagher, PhD, lead researcher of a study presented at the American Pyschological Association’s 2007 annual convention in San Francisco. “The cytokine response during chronic stress appears to play a key role in exacerbating the acute central nervous system infection and the development of subsequent autoimmune responses.”
Researchers at Texas A&M University conducted a series of experiments on mice, infecting them with a virus that triggered an MS-like illness and subjecting them to stressful circumstances. Researchers found that the stressful events elevated levels of inflammatory cytokines, increasing the severity of the disease. In another experiment, scientists administered antibody treatments to the mice to neutralize the effect of the cytokines. These mice did not experience a worsening of their infection or related disease symptoms when exposed to the stressors.
According to these researchers, human studies have shown that stress leads to a similar increase in cytokine levels in people with already assaulted immune systems. The successful antibody treatment in the mice may have implications for humans. Meagher said, “It is possible that the adverse effects of social conflict on people who are vulnerable to certain inflammatory diseases may be prevented or reversed by treatments aimed at blocking increases in this cytokine. Recent evidence suggests that some potential interventions include certain anti-inflammatory drugs, exercise, antidepressant medication, omega-3 fatty acids and mindfulness relaxation training.”
Source: The American Psychological Association, www.apa.org.