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Stress Can Stress Out the Immune System

October 29, 2001|Benedict Carey and \f7

Stressed? Wounded? Feeling trapped, like a rodent in a test tube, at the mercy of some mysterious experiment?

In these times of anthrax-contaminated envelopes, leave it to science to provide a dark analogy for our troubles. A recent issue of the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity features research on stress and wound healing. The studies remind us that such depredations are not new to U.S. mice: Researchers "stressed" the rodents by putting them in tubes for 15 hours a day without food or drink; cut the animals; then infected the wounds with the bacteria that causes strep throat.

Doctors have known for some time that various kinds of stress, including chronic pain, can alter the speed and strength of immune response, likely delaying the healing of wounds. And, sure enough, compared with a group of mice that was wounded while roaming "free" in cages, the poor, unfed, confined mice suffered longer and more severely from the infection.

All the more reason--during this real-life stress--to eat, drink, get out of our cages and give thanks we're not lab mice.

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