Don't Worry, Stay Well
Study shows immune systems are weaker in neurotic types
By Randy Dotinga
Jan. 22 (HealthScout) -- As if the Woody Allens of the world
don't have enough to worry about, a new study suggests their
neurotic attitudes may suppress their immune systems.
at the University of Pittsburgh found that moody and nervous
medical students produced fewer antibodies in response to
injections of a hepatitis vaccine.
study, in this month's issue of the journal Health
Psychology, adds new information to a large body of work
that links mental attitude to illness, says co-author Anna L.
already know neurotic people -- those prone to nervousness,
sadness, irritability and worry -- are more likely to report
question is whether they're hypochondriacs," Marsland
says. "This study suggests they may actually be more
susceptible to illness."
recruited 51 men and 33 women -- aged 21 to 33 -- to take part
in the study. All were given psychological tests to determine
their levels of anxiety and emotional stability. Fifteen
percent of the subjects were found to have neurotic attitudes.
subjects were also given immunizations for hepatitis B, a
common liver disease. Like other vaccines, a hepatitis
immunization works by making your body think it is being
attacked. The immune system marshals its troops, known as
antibodies, to fight the invaders. The antibodies then stay in
your body and prevent future infections.
analyzed how the subjects' bodies reacted to the hepatitis
vaccine. They found the immune systems of neurotic subjects
weren't as strong as their counterparts.
also made the subjects give short speeches in front of a video
camera to measure their immune system's response to immediate
stress. The immune systems of neurotic students suffered more
than the others.
not clear why the neurotic subjects had weaker immune systems.
they don't sleep as well, or their diet is different or they
don't exercise," Marsland says. "All of those
factors have been shown to be related to immune
is also evidence that stress kicks in a fight-or-flight
response that temporarily suppresses your immune system, she
linking stress to illness may be easy, figuring out what to do
about it is harder.
don't want to spread doom and gloom, but there's some
indication that neuroticism is one of the more genetically
inherited personality traits," which may make it hard to
change, Marsland says.
professor who has done similar research says the study will
help pinpoint what it is about stress that weakens immune
a complex story for which we only have pieces of the
answer," says Ronald Glaser, a professor at Ohio State
University who has studied the effects of stress on caregivers
who work with Alzheimer's patients.
research may change how people look at their health, he says.
year, I walked over to a clinic to get a flu vaccination. I
signed in and waited to get a shot, and then I thought, 'I've
had a lousy week, what am I doing here if our laboratory has
shown how stress can affect how I'll respond to a flu
left and went back another day for his shot. "Most people
can determine when they get their vaccination," he says.
"They don't have to get it tomorrow. If they know they're
going through a tough week or two, they might want to wait a
bit before they get a vaccine."
reduction may end up becoming an important part of treatment
of disease, he says.
inexpensive and it's non-toxic," he says. "Even if
it doesn't work, the patient feels better."
you tend to worry a lot, consider ways to reduce your stress
level. Psychotherapy and anti-anxiety medication are two
possible solutions, but don't forget the importance of
exercise, a good diet and enough sleep.
may want to take Glaser's advice about vaccines. You might
even want to avoid the germs lurking in large groups, but
remember soothing human contact is vital to beating your
stress in the first place.