People undergoing oppressive stress have measurable anomalies in their immune system that make them more vulnerable to illness. It's widely believed that stress may impair health, although the underlying mechanisms are not clear. Now researchers at Washington University in the US reveal that exposure to chronic stress has a specific effect on immunity.
When an inflammatory response is set up - in response to infection - this is eventually terminated by the hormone cortisol. Otherwise, the body would be in a state of chronic inflammation as happens in various auto-immune diseases and allergy. In this study, a group of parents caring for children with cancer were compared to a group with healthy children. The first group were clearly suffering chronic stress, as revealed from questionnaires they were given.
Tests showed that the stressed parents had a blunted cortisol response to inflammation. This could put them at risk of a whole range of diseases where inflammation is involved - from heart disease to allergy.