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Stress-Prone May Have Weaker Immune Response

NEW YORK, Jan 22 (Reuters Health) - People who tend to worry and are easily stressed out may be more prone to infection than their carefree peers, according to new research.

People, who display such characteristics, describing themselves as anxious, stressed easily and often sad or tense, mount a lower immune response to vaccines, said Dr. Anna Marsland, of the University of Pittsburgh. This could indicate that they also have a weaker immune response to invading bacteria and viruses, and thus are at greater risk of infection, she said.

What's more, Marsland and colleagues found that people who say are immune to stress--but blood pressure readings and other tests indicate otherwise--may also be at risk. The findings are published in the January issue of the journal Health Psychology.

The researchers studied how 84 graduate students responded to a Hepatitis B vaccine, which consists of a series of 3 shots. To do so, the researchers measured the levels of immune molecules in the blood known as antibodies.

Study participants also answered questions to determine their personality characteristics, with nearly 15% of test subjects reporting higher-than-average levels of nervous or stressed traits, Marsland told Reuters Health.

The investigators found that a lower immune response to the second shot of the vaccine was strongly linked with higher ratings for anxious personality. By the same token, those who were the least moody or nervous by nature had the strongest immune response to the vaccine.

"This is the first time we've shown any link between stress or being prone to stress and a measure of immunity that's in the body," noted Marsland. Studies conducted on laboratory grown cells had hinted that stress might be linked to immune suppression.

Marsland emphasized, however, that the study results were indicative only of the immune response after the second shot of the vaccine and not the final ability of people to ward off the Hepatitis B virus.

"We were using that (vaccine) as a model of their body's ability to mount an antibody response as if it were infected by something," said Marsland.

The study also found that people who have a strong psychological response to stress might have a lower immune response as well.

"There are actually some people who will tell you that (they) don't respond to stress psychologically, but who, when we look at them in the lab, show large physical responses to stress--greater increases in heart rate, blood pressure, and greater changes in immunity," explained Marsland.

For this part of the study, Marsland measured participants' physiological response to preparing and producing a 3-minute videotaped speech.

"We showed that the people who showed the greatest (physical) suppression of the immune functions following that speech stressor, so those are the people who are going to be affected more by stress in their life, mounted lower antibody (or immune) responses to the vaccine," Marsland said.

But she noted that the two findings, personality and physiological response to stress, don't automatically go hand in hand.

"There are many different factors that are related to immunity, and from the study, we can suggest that there are two separate things here that are related to antibody response," Marsland pointed said.

SOURCE: Health Psychology 2001; 20.

Tune-Up can be used as an effective tool in a stress management program. It also teachers you how to reach a higher level of vitality through the aerobic exercise with resistance combined with massage, acupressure, and reflexology utilizing a massage belt.

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Article © copyright Mikhail Levitin Institute | Graphics and Design © copyright Steven Monk