The stress a typical married couple feels during an ordinary half-hour argument is enough to slow their bodies ability to heal from wounds by at least one day, a new study has shown.
Moreover, if the couples relationship is routinely hostile toward each other, the delay in that healing process can be even doubled. The results of this study have major financial implications for medical centers and health care insurers.
The new study, reported in the current issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, is the latest discovery in a three-decade-long series of experiments underway at the Ohio State University s Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research. The work is aimed at identifying and then explaining the ways psychological stress can affect human immunity.
“Wounds on the hostile couples healed at only 60 percent of the rate of couples considered to have low levels of hostility,” Kiecolt-Glaser said.
Blood samples from those highly hostile couples showed differences as well. The levels of one cytokine – interleukin-6 (IL-6) – increased one-and-a-half times over those in couples considered less hostile.
Cytokines are key elements in the human immune system. They hold a delicate balance in maintaining the right immune response. Increased levels of IL-6 at the site of a wound stimulate the healing process but those same levels circulating throughout the bloodstream is a problem.
Sustained higher-than-normal levels of IL-6 have been linked long-term inflammation which, in turn, is implicated in a host of age-related illnesses. These include cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, type-2 diabetes, certain lymphoproliferative diseases and cancers, Alzheimers disease and periodontal disease, the researchers said.
“In our past wound-healing experiments, we looked at more severe stressful events,” Kiecolt-Glaser said. “This was just a marital discussion that lasted only a half-hour.
“The fact that even this can bump the healing back an entire day for minor wounds says that wound-healing is a really sensitive process.”
Glaser added, “This supports our long-held contention that even small changes in cytokine levels will have a marked effect on health.”
William Malarkey, professor of internal medicine; Stanley Lemeshow, dean of the School of Public Health and director of the Center for Biostatistics, and postdoctoral researchers Tim Loving and Jeff Stowell also worked on the research.
The work was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health.
Janice Kiecolt-Glaser | EurekAlert!
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