Cancer, Alcoholism, And Colds

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Cancer, Alcoholism, And Colds

Close social ties have been associated with a reduction in all cause mortality in numerous reports. Conversely, the loss of a spouse results in 3 to 13 times higher death rates for survivors over the next 18 months for all the ten leading causes of death. Lowered immune system resistance due to loneliness and social isolation has also been demonstrated in other settings. The biggest decline during stressful examination periods occurred in those medical students who reported feeling lonely. Another study showed that social isolation contributed to illness and death just as much as smoking.

Breast cancer and melanoma patients involved in counseling and group activities survive much longer than those without this degree of social support. Heart attack victims who participate in group therapy live longer, and the success of Alcoholics Anonymous, athritis, "ostomy", and clubs thin convene people with common problems, also demonstrates the wide range of benefits from group activities thin provide strong emotional support.

Evidence of the ability of stress to reduce resistance to infection comes from anecdotal reports of morbidity and mortality in plague and tuberculosis epidemics, as well as case histories of patients with AIDS and recurrent herpes. While we tend to think of infectious diseases as berg highly contagious, clinical trials have shown that it is relatively difficult to contract hepatitis, or to "catch" a cold, even when volunteers are confined to fairly close quartos with infected individuals. Over the past two decades, advances in our understanding of how the mind can influence the immune system have helped to explain this. What seems to be the determining factor is not the severity of exposure, but rather the integrity of host defenses.

Human studies involving potentially lethal microscopic organisms can no longer be conducted. However, it has been shown that antibody responses to Hepatitis B vaccinations, and even smallpox inoculation, are suppressed in individuals under stress. Probably the most elegant evidence demonstrating the ability of stress to increase the incidence and severity of infections has come from research on its relationship to the common cold.

In the landmark 1991 report, healthy young volunteers were subjected to various degrees of stress, and then received nasal sprays containing one of several rhinoviruses that can cause upper respiratory infections. The results were astounding. Serologic tests indicating that infection had taken place mirrored the degree of perceived stress More importantly, the frequency of developing a cold, as well as the severity and duration of the infection also showed a precise, progressive correlation with increasing levels of stress.

These same researchers recently reported on the effects of social support in an article in The Journal Of The American Medical Association titled, "Social Ties and Susceptibility to the Common Cold." They quarantined 276 health volunteers and gave them nasal drops containing one o two rhinoviruses that cause the common cold. All subjects had been carefully screened to evaluate their level of participation in a dozen types of social ties with a spouse, significant other, parent, sibling close friend, fellow worker, member of a social group, etc. The diagnosis of a cold was made based on clinical symptoms that were also accompanied by a rise in specific viral antibody titers.

Those with more types of social ties were least susceptible to both viruses, produced less mucus and had less evidence of viral replication in their nasal secretions. Susceptibility to colds declined in a linear fashion as evidence of social support in creased. Smoking, poor sleep habits, low vitamin C intake, being introverted, and, surprisingly, abstinence from alcohol, were all associated with a greater incidence of upper respiratory infection However, this still did not diminish the influence o strong social support. Of those with three or less relationships, 62 percent came down with a cold. In contrast, only 43 percent of those with four or five and 35 percent with six or more types, became ill This proof of the importance of social ties is hardly new. As Adelaide complained in Guys and Dolls over 50 years ago:

"In other words,

just from waiting around for

that plain little band of gold,

A person can develop a cold."

The American Institute of Stress.

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