- One study by researcher Christopher Fagundes and his colleagues examined childhood stress and later immunity by examining women's vulnerability to the development of herpesvirus-related conditions in the wake of a stressful event--a breast cancer diagnosis. One hundred eight breast cancer survivors completed questionnaires examining early childhood stressors, and gave samples of their blood. The researchers identified those who had experienced greater levels of childhood stress, and found that they had higher levels of antibody titers as well, which signified a less robust immune response. One potential weakness of this study is that subjects may have different levels of memory--some reports may be less accurate than others, and this may potentially skew results. Also, although it did examine some mediating factors such as sleep, BMI, and education levels, this research does not take into account other potentially mediating factors such as coping mechanisms used or social support available, which may also skew results. Overall, however, this study presents solid evidence that childhood adversity has some effect on immunity.
- As if sensing a potential weakness in the previous study, another group of researchers headed by researcher Jennifer Dowd studied children and their antibody responses. They took existing date from a study that ran from 1999-2004 and examined the titers in the blood of children living in poverty. They found that children who lived in poverty for a certain time had a weaker immune response to cytomegalovirus. They also found that this effect was more pronounced in older children, suggesting that there were far-reaching consequences that may build upon each other. They did not examine mitigating factors at all, which could be a weakness of this study. However, the data is compelling that there is a connection between early childhood stress from poverty, and reduced immune functioning in childhood as well as in later adulthood.
- A third study presents another piece of the puzzle. Researcher Christopher Fagundes and his colleagues again examined a group of women who were undergoing breast cancer treatment (and thus, highly stressed), and studied their immunity to herpesvirus via their antibody titers. These researchers also looked at the presence of social support and the possible mitigating factor of socioeconomic status. As expected, highly educated women with higher levels of friend support experienced lower levels of antibody titers, which reflected a stronger immune response. Perhaps surprisingly, however, was the finding that women of low socioeconomic status did not experience the same protective benefits from friend support. This finding reinforces the previous study's association between poverty and immunity (although the poverty may be occurring at different stages of life--childhood vs. adulthood), and it shows one more important mediating variable between stress and immunity. It also shows when this variable is helpful and when it is not. Studies like these can be useful in helping us to better understand the effects of stress and other lifestyle factors on immunity and our overall health.
- How To Cope
Here are a few different ways to tackle stress, each of which has proven benefits. Learn how to decide which approach to take, and when.
- Become More Emotionally Resilient
We are all born with different strengths and weaknesses, and react to stress in unique ways. There are techniques that can build your personal resilience toward stress, however, and can help you to more easily face whatever comes. See which of these may work best for you, or try them all!
- Coping With Stress
When you face stress, there are different ways to protect yourself. Here are two main strategies for coping with stress, with many different examples of how to implement each.
As PNI research shows us more and more about the mind-body connection, we may have more avenues for dealing with stress-related illness. For now, we have proven techniques that can help lessen some of the damage that stress can bring. The resources below can help you to cope with stress, whatever you face.
Source: Dowd, Jennifer; Palmero, Tia; Aiello, Allison. (2012). Family poverty is associated with cytomegalovirus antibody titers in U.S. children. Health Psychology Vol 31(1).
Fagimdes. Christopher P. et. al. (2012). Social support and socioeconomic status interact to predict Epstein-Barr virus latency in women awaiting diagnosis or newly diagnosed with breast cancer. Health Psychology Vol 31(1).
Fagundes, Christpher P.; Glaser, Ronald; Malarkey, William B.; and Kiecolt-Glaser, Janice K. (2012). Childhood adversity and herpesvirus latency in breast cancer survivors. Health Psychology.
Freeman, L. W. (2009). Mosby's complementary and alternative medicine. (3 ed.). St. Louis, MO: Mosby.
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