Carnegie Mellon University scientists identify a critical link in the mind-body connection.
We feel the effects of stress every single day. All of us do. Whether it is at work or at home, stress seems to come at us from everywhere. We must be very careful, because chronic stress can wreak havoc on both the mind and body. We are learning more every day with regards to effects of stress in causing physical illness. For example, studies have shown that psychological stress is associated with greater risk for depression, heart disease and infectious diseases. But, until now, it has not been clear exactly how stress directly affects disease and health.
A research team led by Dr. Sheldon Cohen at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) has found that chronic psychological stress is associated with the body losing its ability to regulate the inflammatory response. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the research shows for the first time that the effects of psychological stress on the body’s ability to regulate inflammation can promote the development and progression of disease.
The Cortisol Connection
“Inflammation is partly regulated by the hormone cortisol and when cortisol is not allowed to serve this function, inflammation can get out of control,” said Dr. Cohen. He believes prolonged stress alters the effectiveness of cortisol to regulate the inflammatory response. Specifically, immune cells become insensitive to cortisol’s regulatory effect. In turn, runaway inflammation is thought to promote the development and progression of many diseases.
Cohen, whose groundbreaking early work showed that people suffering from psychological stress are more susceptible to developing common colds, used the common cold as the model for testing his theory. Contrary to what most people believe, when we come down with the common cold, our symptoms are not caused by the virus. Instead they are a “side effect” of the inflammatory response that is triggered as part of the body’s effort to fight infection. The greater the body’s inflammatory response to the virus, the greater is the likelihood of experiencing the symptoms of a cold.
(in fact, Dr. John Cannell of The Vitamin D Council discussed this issue at length when I interviewed him on The Healthy Mind podcast in January)
“The immune system’s ability to regulate inflammation predicts who will develop a cold, but more importantly it provides an explanation of how stress can promote disease,” Cohen said. “When under stress, cells of the immune system are unable to respond to hormonal control, and consequently, produce levels of inflammation that promote disease. Because inflammation plays a role in many diseases such as cardiovascular, asthma and autoimmune disorders, this model suggests why stress impacts them as well.”
He added, “Knowing this is important for identifying which diseases may be influenced by stress and for preventing disease in chronically stressed people.” The mind-body connection is alive and well!!
April 6, 2012
The Healthy Mind Network
Image Credit: Sarah G…
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