Chronic psychological stress and immune system dysregulation

Research has shown that chronic stress negatively affects health. One model suggests that chronic stress suppresses immune function, leaving people more vulnerable to infectious diseases and cancers. However, it doesn’t explain how stress affects conditions that result from over-activation of the immune system, such as autoimmune, arthritic and cardiovascular disorders. To investigate how stressors interfere with the immune system’s ability to turn itself off once activated, Dr. Miller is comparing the immune responses of two groups: parents with a severe chronic stressor (a child undergoing cancer treatment), and parents of healthy children. Results from the research could increase knowledge about the ways stressors affect health, including confirmation that one of the effects is interference with the immune system’s ability to turn off responses against bacteria. As part of this study, Dr. Miller is also examining whether supportive personal relationships act as a buffer against chronic stress.