- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2003


It’s no surprise that constant stress can make people sick, and a team of researchers has now figured out why.

In a study focused on 119 men and women taking care of spouses with dementia, the health of the caregivers was compared with that of 106 persons of similar ages who were not living under the stress of constant caregiving.

Blood tests showed that a chemical called Interleukin-6 sharply increased in the blood of the stressed caregivers compared with blood of the others. Previous studies have associated IL-6 with several diseases, including heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, type-2 diabetes and certain cancers.

The study also found that the increase in IL-6 can linger in a caregiver for as long as three years after he or she had ceased that role because of the spouse’s death. Of the test group, 78 spouses died during the survey.

“This really makes a link to why chronic stress can actually kill people,” said Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychology and psychiatry at Ohio State University. “We haven’t had a good mechanism before.”

She explained that people under stress tend to respond by doing things that can increase their levels of IL-6.

For example, they may smoke or overeat; smoking raises IL-6 levels, and the chemical is secreted by fat cells. Stressed people also may not get enough exercise or sleep, she added. Exercise reduces IL-6, she said, and normal sleep helps regulate levels of the chemical.

It clearly points to the need to control stress better, she said.

The findings by the research group, led by Kiecolt-Glaser and her husband, Ronald Glaser, a professor of molecular virology, immunology and medical genetics at the university, appear this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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