Making the connection between chronic stress and immune response


Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, has dedicated her research career to understanding how stress alters the endocrine and immune systems. Her Stress and Health Lab, part of The Ohio State University Medical Center's Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research (IBMR) of which she is director, has been at the forefront of this field.

Dr. Kiecolt-Glaser's research reveals how chronic stress, such as spousal care giving, can have negative effects on the caregiver's immune system and can increase the person's risk for age-related diseases. Her work reveals that chronic stress can impair vaccine response and her lab was the first to demonstrate that stress slows the rate at which wounds heal.

She has also examined stress in the context of nutrition. "We recently showed that stress can alter the metabolic responses to high-fat meals in ways that promote obesity, another first in the research literature," says Dr. Kiecolt-Glaser.

More recent research examines the relationship between stress and inflammation in the context of cancer. A just-completed, randomized, controlled trial suggests that yoga could reduce inflammation in breast cancer survivors. One of her newer studies examines how physical fitness, which tends to decline following cancer treatment, affects inflammation responsiveness.

Data from this study would improve our understanding of how physical fitness influences inflammation, as well as adverse inflammation-associated behavioral changes, including negative mood, fatigue, increased pain sensitivity and cognitive deficits. This could also provide broader insight into the pathways through which regular exercise produces substantial health benefits.