A doctor has been given a new drug to test, which is intended to help boost the immune system and help prevent people from getting colds. How have psychologists investigated the relationship between stress and the immune system?
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In a way this really is dealing with two separate issues. A doctor is participating in a clinical trial for a new drug that boosts the immune system. But your real question deals with links between stress and the immune system. Over the years, medical studies as shown definite links between stress and mental attitudes and the immune system (and human health in general). People have linked stress with pretty much every disease imaginable, including cancer. But while the statistically sound evidence linking stress and cancer doesn't really exist, there has been found to be a link between stress and the immune system. Acute stress triggers will activate the immune system and trigger the release of molecules called cytokines which are involved with inflammation. If there are wounds to heal as a result of the conflict, the cytokines will help in healing and fighting infection, which is a positive thing. This almost certainly results from the human body adapting to how life used to be for millions of years (hunter/gatherer days). But most people don't really get into physical fights as a result of stressors these days. In fact, much stress these days results not from acute stress but from low grade, long term stress that comes from worrying about jobs, bills, children, etc. These stress triggers can keep immunochemicals like cytokines at elevated levels for long periods of time, and this can have a detrimental effect on the body, possible leading to more serious diseases and ill health. So while a drug to temporarily boost the immune system to fight off a cold may be useful, it would not be a wise idea to overuse this drug and keep the immune system at elevated levels for long periods of time.
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