STUDY: Recreating Stress in Your Mind Found to Increase Inflammation in the Body by 20%

A new Ohio University study has found that dwelling on stressful events can cause chronic inflammation in the body that is very similar to the body’s response to a trauma, injury or an infection. This is because stress has the ability to alter heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels in the body. According to the lead author of this research study, assistant professor of psychology at Ohio University, Dr. Peggy Zoccola notes that this is the first experimental study to directly measure levels of inflammation in the body due to the effects of prolonged feelings of negativity and stress.

Researchers were looking for psychological and physiological correlations among their 34 participants. What they found was that the participants in the study who were asked to reflect on a stressful event endured elevated levels of C-reactive protein which is a marker of tissue inflammation. 

This C-reactive protein is produced mainly by the liver and is activated by the immune system as the initial response to a trauma, injury or infection. C-reactive protein is commonly used to determine if a patient has an infection or if they are at risk for disease later in life. Zoccola clarifies that although feelings of stress won’t lead to high-risk cardiovascular disease or any other illness, constant and frequent stress could certainly make people more vulnerable to chronic inflammation which has the long-term potential to cause heart disease, cancer, dementia and autoimmune diseases.

About the Study:

Who were the Participants?

» 34 healthy young women.

What were the Procedures?

» Each woman was asked to give a speech about her candidacy for a job to two interviewers in white laboratory coats, who listened with stone-faced expressions.

» Half of the group was asked to contemplate their performance in the public speaking task, while the other half was asked to think about neutral images and activities, such as sailing ships or grocery store trips.

What were the Findings?

» For these participants, the levels of the inflammatory marker continued to rise for at least one hour after the speech.

» During the same time period, the marker returned to starting levels in the subjects who had been asked to focus on other thoughts.

» The researchers drew blood samples that showed that the levels of C-reactive protein were significantly higher in the subjects who were asked to dwell on the speech.

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